Ban these films

The Medium is the Message – Marshal McLuhan

24-year old Janaki who was working as a store clerk in D’mart, Hyderabad was found dead by her colleague in her room. Janaki was killed by a 25 year named Anand, who stalked her but was spurned.

Padmaavat or Padmavati finally saw the light of the day. After much protests, acrimonious debates and politics, film fraternity and liberals found joy (along with the producers, obviously) when the film eventually hit the theatres. Whether the film is a commercial success or not, it reemphasized the reality that reel life affects & effects real life in India.

Watching a movie is a challenge for me. Bollywood or Tollywood, I cannot stand any wood when it comes to movies. I watched a Telugu flick after a long time. It was a typical boy-get-girl rom-com masala movie. The plot is as old as the film. The hero (?) is a vagabond who falls for a pretty girl from a rich family. He trolls, stalks, teases and chases her. The comedy is slapstick, the situations are clichéd to the extent that you can predict the next turn of the plot (if there is one) 10 minutes before. There are stalking scenes, chasing scenes, teasing scenes and every act that deserves a jail time. But, this is Indian cinema. The girl spurns him but eventually falls in love with him and the boy eventually wins her.

What’s the message? It is ok to be a careless, useless and irresponsible man. You can pick the girl of your choice and decide that she is your life partner. What about the girl’s consent? It is a movie and we know how it will come end as. Nobody knows how the vagabond and a responsible girl will live their life afterwards. Look at the movie from the girl’s perspective and ask what she (and girls like her) is going through every day on the streets of India. The girl’s family may not be open minded to accept such a guy (which family will anyway) and might cause major problems for her in her life. Worse, in this film the hero’s family encourages the boy to win the girl no matter what!

Reel life is fun and fleeting whereas reality is different and is biting. It is hurting the girls and women of our society. More than corruption and terrorism, eve-teasing is a major social ill that the Indian society needs to overcome. If our heroes (?) perpetuate it and patronize it, what message does it send out to the young men in impressionable age? In India, especially south India, film heroes are larger than life and many imitate them in many ways. As is always the case, the bad is adapted faster than the good acts.

An Anand who no doubt found inspiration from the acts of the heroes cut a Janaki’s life short. I also find fault with the actresses who accept to work in such roles. In such movies, they are objectified and trolled which they gleefully accept for few lakhs of rupees putting lakhs of girls in discomforting situations. These very actresses come out strongly and display lot of courage to put online trolls in their place. Ladies you show more power in 300 characters on social media than in the characters that you play. Can you stand up against such character sketches in the movies that you act? No means no. Even if it is in a movie.

Censor board in India clearly has its priorities wrong. For them display of skin, profligacy, violence and religious sentiments are the only criteria to judge the ‘eligiblity’ of a movie to be shown to the public. The above movie I mentioned above gets a green on every one of the above criteria. But it falls flat on one criteria – moral turpitude. These so-called harmless boy-meets-trolls-gets-girl movies do more harm in a more quiet but definite way. They say a wrong repeated many times may end up sounding true. A reel life misadventure repeated (with great success), often portrayed by their idols is sure to harm the society.

Padmavati may or may not be a real person. But Janaki is a real person and there are many more Janaki’s out there. Allaudin Khilji might be one in a lifetime villain. Every successful boy-meets-trolls-gets-girl movie creates more Anand’s for sure. Viewers know that it is not possible for Padmavati –Khilji to repeat. Anand-Janaki tragedy will sadly repeat for sure.

We have A, UA, U ratings for our movies. Can we add SH (Socially Harmful) rating also?

It is our call what we want to ban. Padmavati or Janaki-killers.



How We Fail the System

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. Mark Twain

23 lives were lost. Scores injured. Many dreams, hopes and livelihoods destroyed. Elphinstone Station bridge tragedy in India’s maximum city symbolized everything that was wrong with India of today. Inefficient, ineffective, overstretched, overwhelmed, inconsiderate, corrupt, desperate and lot else.

I had used the Elphinstone Station for nearly two-and-half years to reach my place of work in IndiaBulls. It shudders me that I could have been one of the 23 who lost their lives on that fateful day. Condolences and prayers to all those affected by the tragedy.

Over the past 6 days read numerous articles in the newspapers, whatsapp, facebook and watched mindless debates on TV. The judgement was unequivocal. The system failed, cheated, looted and left us without a choice. It was the system. Blame the system. Hang the system. There is no doubt the system failed. Is it just the system that failed or it is us, who use the system failed? Is it about time we Indians reflect upon ourselves as to how we fail the system?

Wish to share with you a few areas in the system as to how we hurt the system than benefit from it.

Traffic. It is everyone’s bug bear in urban India. Chaos does not describe it adequately. Autowallahs and the taxiwallahs are culprits. But what does educated lady & the gentlemen do? Horn in your bike and car are for emergencies but not to clear the way ahead for you while you are driving while attending the important concall on your mobile phone. Do we respect the rule that honking near schools and especially hospitals is a strict no? We believe that the helmet is not to protect your head but to escape the traffic cop & a challan!

What about double/wrong parking? Once in Mumbai I found a top end car double-parked outside a store in a tony neighborhood.  I asked the driver to move the car to which he replied, “madam is in the shop. She will get upset if she does not find me outside when she steps out of the shop!” Will that lady do that in Europe or America? Apna system hai, chale ga.

Following instructions. One of the suggestions in Elphinstone tragedy was that loudspeakers could have been used to guide people. Good point. But, do we listen? On the same evening of the tragedy was driving back home and there was heavy rain in Hyderabad. Switched on the radio to get traffic updates. One channel had people call in. As usual many just screamed at all the officials and the taxes (more on that later) that we pay. At one junction, water had swelled on a road under bridge. Everyone was stopping to have a look at it and some drivers were trying to drive that way. Two traffic policemen were begging with folded hands not to use that way and drive few meters ahead to take another route as it was safer. 5 out of 10 refused to listen and the other 5 stopped their vehicles to have a look at the gushing water leading to traffic pile up. We don’t listen to doctors and indulge in self-medication. After all, the traffic policeman is a lowly educated, possibly corrupt and definitely incompetent guy. How can I, the intelligent, educated person listen to him? System is stupid, I’m smart.

Fair price and Taxes. Systems work well in Singapore, Europe & America. Yes they do. But they come at a price. If someone expects to travel from Churchgate to Malad at Rs.7-10, he/she needs to get their logic calibrated. Let’s pay a fair price for utilities and then demand better quality. When we drive down of cost of living not by better planning but by paying low we pay with our lives. Same thing with our taxes. Let’s avoid the temptation to save a few bucks by not asking for a bill or paying off in cash.  Who bothers? Yeh system hi aisa hai!

Cleanliness. Whenever it rains our roads are flooded because our drains are choked. Who chokes them? We. When you travel in Mumbai local trains, you notice many munching snacks bought on the platform. Once polishing off, where do they throw the plastic pouch? Into the nala that’s flowing under or beside the train. I used to request those passengers to detest them from littering. Some said sorry, many said none of your business. One man told me that he is doing it deliberately! Why? Because he is against Modi and wants the Swach Bharat program to fail! Cleanliness toh system ka kaam hai.

It takes two hands to make a clap. System works similarly. You need to do your part (or even more) to ensure it works. We should stop believing that it is govt’s job to clean-up or set things right. We need to ensure that system works to improve things not just to maintain the status-quo.

System is like the nature. It will bear with our shenanigans up to a point. After that, it hits back by giving up. We end up failing ourselves by failing the system.



Jimmiki Kammal and Why Things Go Viral

“Quality, it seems, is a necessary, but insufficient attribute for success.”
― Derek ThompsonHit Makers: Why Things Become Popular

“Entammede jimikki kammal, Entappan kattondu poye, Entappante brandy kuppi, Entamma kudichu theerthe”. If there are few lines every Malayalee (Mallu’s as we are fond to call them), are singing in unison today, these are the ones. It is a song from a Malayalam movie already seen more than 22 million times on YouTube in the last 2 months. There are at least 5 or 6 versions of the song, one from Dubai (of course), one from Australia, one by Infosys team and more. A commerce professor danced to its tune with her students and the video of it garnered 8 million of its own views on YouTube. Simply put the video has gone viral!

Why do some videos go viral? Why some do not? Nobody knows. On YouTube, videos equal to 300 hours are uploaded every day. Very few (<0.03%) go viral. 1 out of thousands of cat videos go viral on Internet. When you look at some of the videos that have gone viral, you wonder what was there in this video for it to viral? Rebecca Black’s Friday video was a YouTube sensation in 2011 when her video garnered millions of views. Everybody was on one page when it came to this video’s artistic attribute – irritating! “Entammade…” does have a good tune, especially the second stanza which I think was sung very well. Sorry, I don’t understand Malayalam!

When Dhanush sang the Kolaveri Di song that went so viral, little did he know that it would grow into something so big! He sold the rights of the song to Sony for a pittance before it went viral. If any other music company signed him up with big cheques for his other songs expecting a rerun of Kolaveri Di success, it was their turn to earn a pittance. One thing is common about most viral videos – they are one off success stories. Heard the next number of Psy? Who is he? He is the singer of Gangnam Style. So going viral is a stroke of luck or is there a method & science to it?

Baby faced Prof Johan Berger of Wharton believes there is a science and a method to it. He is the author of the well-written book  about viral messaging titled ‘Contagious’. He explores and explains the phenomenon of things going viral and tips on how to make things go viral. Applying some of his ideas (called STTEPS) one can explain the phenomenon of Rebecca Black of the irritating Friday song. It gets 80-90% of its views, you guessed it, on a Friday! Suppose you are looking for a song to patch on something related to Friday, here is a readymade one. There are very few songs on the days of the week out there, so there is not much choice but to opt for Rebecca Black if it is Friday! It is something happened without her choice. Can we make things viral with a plan? Here is an example.

There are literally hundreds of bars & pubs in New York. How do you get popular? By not telling anyone! In one of the hot dog restaurants in East Village in New York there is an old telephone booth in one corner. After you enter you are greeted with an old rotary telephone. Dial as per the instructions and a voice greets you with the message “do you have a reservation?” It is the secret entrance to the famous pub Please Don’t Tell. Even if you do not have a reservation (who needs one for a pub?), you are informed that you are lucky today and a door at the back of the booth opens to welcome you into the pub. Their only request, Please Don’t Tell. Being true humans, that what we do. Tell everyone and take it viral!

Unfortunately more negative things go viral (like the fever) than the positive ones. It is our choice what we don’t like and what we don’t forward. We see, like and share that has been by many (views counter on every video). Remember, these views can be bought and created to help the video spread to catch unsuspecting people like you and me with click bait headlines (watch till the end, what happens next is shocking etc.). Think twice before you hit the like, share or comment button on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.

Ultimately it’s our choice what goes viral.



P.S.: If you are interested here is a loose translation of the first stanza of “Entammede…” shared by a Mallu friend of mine.

My Mother’s dangling earring

Was stolen by my Father.

My Mother drank to the bottom

My Father’s brandy bottle.


Here is the video link


His Masters Voice

Ravi Shastri it is. The three wise men of Indian cricket had decided that Ravi Shastri is a better cultural fit as a coach to Indian team than Anil Kumble. In the corporate world ex-COO of Flipkart, Nitin Seth has filed a case against his former employer. The reason given for Nitin’s sacking was ‘he is not fitting with the culture of Flipkart’. Outside of religion and private life, what is the culture that we talk about? We spend more time with strangers than with our own family. How does this work culture affect our way of work?

On August 6, 1997 Korean Air Flight 801 crashed into the hills around the airport in Guam, a United States territory killing 228 of the 254 passengers & crew. Investigations confirmed that it was a pilot error. The flight engineers and first officer warned the Captain about the landing path but he over ruled them causing the crash. Later analysis revealed that it was not just technical or individual error but at the heart of it was the culture of Korea and Korean Air. Can culture of a country or an organization hurt to such extent?

In the year, 1965 Greet Hofstede founded the personnel research department in IBM. Between 1971 and 1973, he conducted a survey among 117,000 IBM employees from various subsidiaries located across the world of this multi-national. The study was to find out about national values differences among the employees in different countries from which he constructed a theory about culture. His theory is one of the first that tried to explain the observed differences between cultures. From the study, Hofstede developed six dimensions of national cultures. Power Distance Index (PDI), Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV), Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI), Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS), Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO), Indulgence vs. restraint (IND).

The most potent of these dimensions is the Power Distance Index. Wikipedia defines PDI “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Simply put what is the ‘distance’ between the boss and the subordinate or parent and child in any given culture. Many countries have been given scores on these indexes. For example, Austria has a PDI of 11, USA 40, Pakistan 55 and Malaysia 104. India’s score is 77. South Korea’s score is 60.

Simply put, higher the PDI, the lower level member in the chain accepts the fact to treat the higher-level member with reverence. The boss in Malaysia, India and South Korea is not someone whom you disagree with! He is the mai-baap, the benevolent dictator. That is what Kapil Sharma reportedly told his team during the in-famous flight back from Australia.

Reading the second dimension Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV) along with PDI, the entire culture takes a new dimension. I, me, myself score is low in Malaysia at 26 whereas the PDI is 104. That is, an employee in Malaysia is fully subservient to the institution, boss and the system. In USA, the IDV score is 91 wherein each American is free to pursue his dream and pull himself up the society’s strata. The IDV of India is 48. We are for ourselves to the extent that our boss and the system permits us!

Now let us try applying this to the two scenarios – Virat Kohli/Kumble and Korean Air. In Korean Air disaster, though the first officer knew what the Captain was doing wrong he just informed him but did not warn, stop or protest about it. If the first officer were an American, he would have probably slapped the Captain to make him see the facts and take the right action.

Though we do not know what exactly happened in Virat/Kumble episode, one can harbor a guess. Virat is clearly an alpha male (dominant) with a higher than 48 IDV score and lower than 77 PDI score. Being older, Kumble must be from the higher PDI school, who believed that being the senior and boss his word should be final because that is what he practiced in his playing days. Virat has low PDI and high IDV. Kumble high PDI and low IDV. Adding up of Virat’s score and Kumble score resulted in a net zero!

Many more factors determine our response within a cultural set-up. I am not a sociologist to dissect it more professionally and it would be interesting to read the observations of one.

A parting thought. What is the reason for success of Indians outside India especially USA? High PDI that makes them acceptable as an immigrant but with high IDV that drives them to achieve more? Is it our culture or our systems – traditions, caste, reservations, corruption, bureaucracy etc. that is stopping us (suppressing our IDV) to achieve more?





UBER in us – values vs valuation

Behind every great fortune lies a great crime – Honore de Blazac

King Croesus of Lydia was one of the richest kings of the world ever (hence the phrase, Rich as Croesus). Once Solon, the wise legislator from Greece paid a visit to him and Croesus tried show off his wealth.  Solon was not impressed. Try as he might, Solon dismissed Croesus’ wealth to the quirk of luck. Croesus believed he was rich because he deserved it and nothing less than that.

The tale of Croesus has a further twist, as after sometime Croesus was defeated in war by the redoubtable Persian king Cyrus. King Cyrus captured Croesus and put him to death. Reportedly, as he was about to be burnt to death he shouted out, “Solon, you were right”. King Cyrus stopped the burning and asked Croesus to explain. On knowing from Croesus the words of Solon, King Cyrus let him free as he reflected similar possibilities in his own fate.

In the past few weeks, Uber, the richest start-up in the world has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. For those not in the know, a quick round up of the happenings at Uber. Sexual harassment cases, bad recruitment calls, boardroom battles, unpalatable culture at work and much more hit Uber in quick succession finally ending with its founder CEO quitting. As Shakespeare put it, “when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”. Uber is paying it big time for choosing the shortest route to success.

Many of among us nodded in agreement with the fate of Uber. Arrogance, greed and abrasiveness has put paid to the image of Uber. Do we realize that most of us live the life of Uber? In our desire to be successful as measured by material wealth, properties, designations and such symbols what have we given up? If Uber gave up corporate governance, decency at work place, fairness in business practices and more, can we make a realistic assessment of our own progress?

Have read, heard and witnessed this struggle for ‘success’. Men and women in positions of power use their power to hide truth, divert blame, usurp others achievements, lie and cheat. The most disgusting has been exploitation of their junior colleagues to further their goals. Promises made to obtain loyalty to get the work done only to conveniently forget all the words later. Truth is a convenience, not the basis of their work. They recruit teams to build their empires only to dismiss them later to cut costs as a strategy! As the food chain gets higher, subverting law, cooking up accounting books, bribes, debauchery and much more are the norm. In the corridors of power, honesty is a word found only in vision statement and not in action.

With all the wealth and ‘success’ thus earned, they build a life of insecurity. Corrupt ways of life corrode the innards of their conscience and their health suffers. Sadly they do not realize that they are being admired by their lackeys for the share of the spoils that they give out or for fear of retribution and not because they are good. Like King Croesus, they believe they deserve it all and like him, they are wrong.

Uber was valued at $65 billion or so in its last round. If they had followed fair practices, did not tolerate anything or anyway route for success and growth probably they would have been valued much lower. Say $40 billion and not a bad number though! Today, if a fresh round of investments is attempted, Uber might end up with a valuation around that number. Mind you, it is only a valuation and not real money! In economics, there is a phrase to describe it. Reversion to the mean. Eventually all things end up at the average. As it is with Uber, it will be with those of us whose chase the world of ephemeral success.

Today nobody wants to know the valuation of Uber. Everyone is asking what Uber’s values are. Similarly, it will be with each one of us. Likes of Uber can buy up any competitor, deploy the latest technology with all the wealth they have. Pray, from where can they buy what need now the most, respect? Forget Uber, from where can you buy it?

As Steve Jobs realized on his deathbed, buried with our body is our success and valuation. What remains afterwards are our values.

Choose wisely.







Alphabet soup of life

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has in school – Albert Einstein

Results are in. HSC, ICSE, CBSE, JEE, NEET, UPSC, SSC, IIT, EAMCET…the alphabet soup of exams have set out future of the children of India. By the age of 16-17 years, half of school going children in India go through stress and struggle than an adult goes through in 30 years of his working life! Every year crores of children write these exams hoping to build a future for themselves. Many stories emerge from these exams. Some familiar, some out of the box.

Girls outshine boys in schools, boys outshine girls in engineering and medical entrances, sons and daughters of samosa makers to rickshaw pullers emerge triumphant against all odds. North India is more inclined towards Public Services and South India towards IIT /engineering & medicine. Some take to extreme steps in face of failure. Psychologists, sociologists and educationists analyze advice and caution on the ways to win, handle the victory and the defeats in these exams. Every year the story repeats.

Education, especially up to pre-university level is probably the biggest business out there in India. Bigger offshoot of this is the tutorial college business. Kota in Rajasthan, Hyderabad and southern states have famous factories that produce these purported future heroes & heroines of India. Anand Kumar’s Super30 in Patna, a truly non-profit study center, gets a near 100% results every year. The parents of these children spend lots of money, lose lots of sleep and pin great hopes while over burdening their children match the gruel that their children go through. As one of the mentors in one of the factory colleges told a group of parents (including me), “ask him to give 5 years of his life now, he can have a great life forever afterwards”. If he does not make it, who will give him back 5 years of his youth!

Due to the sheer size of population, only one country’s children and parents go through a similar grind. China. Few days ago on June 7 to 9 this year, 200 million children and 400 million parents in China went through an ordeal called Gaokao. It is a popular name for National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Gaokao is a must exam for every child in China to pursue higher education. While In India’s IIT, EAMCET etc. are restricted to Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Zoology, Gaokao is an exam with much wider range of subjects including Chinese language, history etc. Gaokao sets the pecking order. Higher the score, better college you get to go. Apparently, the race of life begins very early in India and China.

If you are wondering why parents of teenage children (especially boys) are more upset with Donald Trump than Americans themselves are, it is these exams. For many parents, especially in South India, an engineering degree is a passport, visa and ticket all combined to United States of America. IIM is the next abode for any many IITians and engineering graduates in their educational pilgrimage of life. For many IIT+IIM is a combination more powerful than nuclear fusion. It is another matter that, many of these bright engineers end up selling soaps, sugared water and investment products!

India produces the highest quantity of unemployed (& unemployable) engineers. Quality of education in India, at every level save few institutions, is a cause for worry. Surprisingly while the cost of education is going up, while teachers are grossly underpaid! Today’s newspaper report highlights that 38% of urban families’ expenditure is on higher education. Many schools in India resemble a low-level office complex sans any facilities apart from ramshackle classrooms. Playground is a dream, sports an option and proper desk a comfort.

During the British rule, Thomas Macaulay created an education system in India that had one objective. Liquidate the indigenous culture of India by substituting it with an alien system to meet the needs of the British Empire. India produced clerks to serve the British Empire. British and Macaulay left long ago. Macaulayism remains entrenched in the schools, desks of the children and minds of the parents. We replaced clerks with coders.

Which school shall we go to get rid of Macaulaysim? Take an entrance test for the same!




These jobs wont go away

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. – Benjamin Franklin
Jobs are (reportedly) being lost every day. All that we learnt or we are learning or to be learnt will be irrelevant shortly. Machines, algorithms and bots are taking over what essentially made man what he is – work. It is work that differentiates man from other creatures. While other creatures work only for two reasons, sustenance and survival, we humans work to sustain, survive, enjoy and conquer apart from other reasons.

If all jobs are going to be done by machines what will we humans do? Of course some humans are required to create, manage and maintain these machines, the rest are plain burden on the planet.

Wait, are all jobs going to be done by machines? Not really. Let’s look at some jobs which we, only humans, can do!

Salesmen: Agreed self-service kiosks and e-commerce has reduced interface between buyers and sellers but salesmen are not going to away anywhere soon. At least the ‘real salespeople’. Every company has customers who buy and there are customers who are sold. Essentially the future salesforce will be split into two – bot and non-bot. Bots will serve to customers who buy what they require. To ‘sell’ products like double the money in 3 months, magical weight loss pills, three units when all you need is one etc. you need human salesmen!

Drivers: This is one job that will never go away in India. Driverless cars will take you in the right direction the right way. To jump signals, go in the wrong direction, go around a cow, double-park etc. is something that we can never programme a driverless car.

Actors: Already one of our superstars in Bollywood is a bot! The way Salman Khan sleeps walks through his roles, a bot might find it difficult to copy. Deadpan expressions (or the lack of them) are something likes of Salman Khan have in abundance, so what can the bots replace. With bots already replacing people, films might be one place where actors can replace the bots! A nerdy revenge.

Lawyers: IBM Ross is the new artificial intelligence based lawyer. AI is said to be threatening the existence of lawyers. That is ‘true’ lawyers. If IBM Ross was Salman Khan’s lawyer in the in-famous car accident case he would have been in jail! It takes a genuine ‘lawyer’ to create a driverless car and convince the judiciary to absolve Salman in the case!

Babus: One job that will never go away will be that of the sarkari babu. A sarkari babu has to take the decision to replace his job with that of a bot. Can’t happen for sure. What can one expect for sure is to have more babus to supervise the bots. Eventually if bots replace babus, the meaning of ‘greasing’ the palms of babus has a different meaning!

Politicians: Now someone has to rule us and the bots! Tamasha of democracy, corruption, stupid politicians are truly irreplaceable. Imagine Trump being replaced by a bot. How boring the world will be without his rambunctious tweets and in the face body language. If there is one section of humans with true artificial intelligence, they are the politicians! Ronald Reagan read out what was there on the tele-prompter which was put out by his advisors. 25 years later, politicians have not gained any more intelligence and depend on artificial intelligence!

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and what else to come cannot stand up against one thing in India – jugaad. From buses to offices to even governments everything here runs on jugaad. I think human intelligence needs to go many notches higher before it can automate jugaad.

Until then, many jobs in India are safe and sure.



PR needs PR

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers. Daniel J. Boorstin

Airlines have hit an air pocket. Our own Air India got bashed up and ended up licking the wounds inflicted on it by our neta. United Airlines seems to have ‘dragged’ itself into a bigger mess.

Yesterday we watched with horror of a passenger who paid for his ticket and occupied his seat dragged, beaten up and carried away by United Airlines staff from the aircraft. What followed (and continues) is a public relations disaster.

Today morning news is filled with stories in the media that do not paint a good picture of the passenger David Dao. After pulling him down physically, United is now trying to pull him down as a person. Wait, before boarding are we supposed to get our character also checked apart from our bags and bodies?

United CEO’s initial response was belligerent. He has since apologised thrice in space of a day but the damage is done. Many PR professionals have put forth their views on how United should have managed the situation. However, it is not the first time nor it will be the last time it will happen.

General Motors did the same mistake in public relations nearly 53 years ago. GM launched Covair, a sporty car in 1964. To cut costs, GM compromised on few parts and hid the facts from the customers. Many accidents were reported but GM kept quiet even though they knew the problem. Ralph Nadar, an automotive engineer wrote a book “Unsafe at any speed” highlighting safety problems with cars due to compromises by makers. Of which only one chapter was on Covair. The book hit the market at the time the complaints about Covair were increasing. Big GM got enraged.

GM’s PR team got into an aggressive mode. They dug into the life of Ralph Nadar and splashed dirt about his life, political leanings, sexuality and much more. It clearly backfired. The book got publicity and more people read it. Those who never found a problem in their Covair suddenly started finding problems! GM apologised, withdrew the car and paid compensation to Ralph Nadar. Positive fall-out was increased auto safety norms, consumer rights, seat belts were made mandatory and much more.

Public Relations is mistaken to be a magical wand that will drive away any bad doings by the organisations. If an organisation is wrong, it is wrong – after all it is run by humans! Apologise, take corrective action and ensure the mistake is not repeated. In today’s world, the loss of face and money (United lost a billion in stock price in a day) is instant.

Good organisation rules are the basis of good PR not the other way round. Take this example.

How much do two crates of mineral water bottles cost in Starbucks? For all the over pricing, it should cost $150 dollar. But it costed Starbucks two million and 150 dollars! On 9/11 2001, few fire service men entered the Starbucks restaurant in Manhattan to ask for water as they were dehydrated due to fighting the fire at World Trade center after the terrorist attacks. Starbucks employee billed them $150. They felt it was grossly overpriced and also inappropriate to demand money due to the situation. The employee was no mood to relent. Rules are rules and you need to pay. All the firemen pooled their monies and bought the water bottles.

Later these firemen sent a representation to Starbucks requesting for refund considering the situation but got no response (after all, rules are rules aren’t they?). A reporter picked up the story and finally it reached top management after lots of unwanted publicity. Starbucks refunded $150 to the firemen and also donated 2 million dollars on their behalf to their favourite charity. PR is costly.

Rules and regulations are necessary for any organisation. Or else there will be chaos and lack of standards. However, organisations should treat rules as guides and not as rings of fire which employees (or customers) can cross at their own peril. Humility, honesty and compassion override and overrule every rule any organisation can ever draft and circulate.

You don’t need a PR agency to manage that.




Democracy is the worst form of government one can imagine. Until one tries to imagine a better one. Winston Churchill

Potholes, filth, corruption, flooded roads…any party would have lost the BMC election. ShivSena-BJP shockingly came back to power 2 days ago.  Past 2 months has been a tumultuous time for the concept of democracy. Be it Trump in USA or happenings in Tamil Nadu, tone & tenor the election campaigns in North India, people have are really wondering is this what democracy means? Elected (or even un-elected ones like Sasikala) representatives behave with impunity, blurring the lines between tyrants, dictators and those who were ‘chosen’ to rule. Democracy is truly crazy!

Democracy as an idea is very simple. Though all human beings are born equal, we are like sheep who need a shepherd to keep the flock together. Best among us is chosen to lead us, guide us to ensure we live life in an equal and constructive way. The need for a democratic system can be likened to a concept in economics called ‘tragedy of commons’.

As per tragedy of commons theory every individual pursues his own interest independent of the others in the system, eventually leading to disaster of the entire system. For example, all of us have a right to drive on the road as we choose, as we are independent beings. In absence of road rules, everyone goes his way and eventually nothing moves defeating the very purpose of driving on the road. We need to create rules and regulations to ensure traffic flows in a particular way so that all will benefit though it may not suit few. Question is, who creates these rules?

Democracy in the form we know now took its birth in ancient 5th century Greece, opposing the concept of aristocracy and replacing it with rule by the people.  In Classical Athens, democracy had a flawed beginning – there was aristocracy in democracy. Only free men were eligible for democratic citizenship, slaves and women being excluded. The first true democratic government was established in Finland in 1906. Today only 3 countries declare themselves ‘not’ to be a democracy – Saudi Arabia, Vatican City and Brunei. Rest all (yes all!) have elected governments. It is entirely another matter that in some countries only one person stands for election and gets 99% of the vote! How I wish to meet the 1%.

Success of democracy funnily is not in the hands of the people but in the hands of the one who has the power. Unchecked power in the hands of the leader reduces democracy into a Kakistocracy (a form of government in which the worst people are in power). Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is an example of running Kakistocratic government. Reason people are aghast with Trump administration is that they believe he has staffed, (including himself) with all the wrong people. So democracy boils to selection of the right leader. That raises the question, who is the right leader?

Greek philosopher Plato put forth a solution – philosopher king. He believed that we need men of highest knowledge to be the kings (rulers) as he believed that knowledge is what is required to rule and not power. The ‘kallipolis’ or the beautiful city (country) is a just city where philosophers rule through knowledge and not through power. In his masterpiece Republic, he outlines the way to groom such philosopher kings and build  a just city.

However, it is not so simple for two reasons. A philosopher after gaining all the knowledge may not be interested in trappings of power and politics. Two, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Philosopher king comes with all the ideals but gets attracted to power and may end up looking like any other politician or a tyrant, that too an intelligent one. Example, Manmohan Singh. Here was an economics philosopher who got attracted to trappings of power (even if remote controlled), looked other way to the corruption around him and did not give it up all and walk away even at the age of 78.

Nevertheless, democracy is the only choice we have to avoid ‘tragedy of commons’. Exercising the choice (of leaders, parties, to vote) is a power every individual possess. Otherwise, democracy as philosopher Nietzsche said will remain ‘a mania to count noses’.



Where are the bowlers?

A gun is no more dangerous than a cricket bat in the hands of a madman – Prince Philip

Which of these is the toughest job? Traffic police officer on the streets of Delhi, speaker of Indian parliament or bowler in a one-day international. Silly, the answer is too obvious.

“There might be some movement for the first 4 overs. That too because 2 balls are used which effectively means that the movement can be expected only for 2 overs with each ball”. Sanjay Manjrekar’s words at the start of India’s innings (the second one) during the last one day international between India & England sounded like death knell to one of the finest arts in the world of sport – bowling!

Watching cricket these days is akin to watching a boxer practicing with a punching bag. Bowlers in cricket today, be it test, one-day or T20, exist only one purpose – to enable batsmen bang the ball into the stands. Rare it is to watch to a batsman flummoxed with an exceptional ball from a bowler. Swing, bouncer, turn etc. may be words that are on the way out from cricket’s lexicon.

Look at the list of 10 players of the day. Kohli, Root, Williamson, Warner, Smith, de Villiers, Amla, Cook, Ashwin, Starc. Only two bowlers! Expand the list to Top 20 and you may end up with one or two more bowlers at the best. Look up the list of top 10 players during 2000-2005. At least five of the top ten players will be bowlers. Such has been the fall of the stature of bowlers.

Take a nostalgic look at the time when Kapil, Botham, Hadlee, Imran, Garner, Marshall, Roberts, Holding, Kumble, Murali, McGrath et al were playing. Whenever they stepped up to bowl, you expected something to happen. While facing them fans of the batsmen were either pitying the plight of the batsmen or admiring their skills in negotiating their skills of batsman ship. When was the last time you felt that way while watching any match these days?

Let’s look at some things that changed the game and made it into ‘modern cricket’. Ball, bat or protective gear, everything has improved a lot – all in favour of the batsmen. Pitches have lost all their bite. Perth or Kingston Jamaica pitches were batsmen’s nightmare. No longer. Every pitch report of every match is the same. “Flat, even bounce and outside chance of turn,” every commentator can say for every match to be played for the next 3 months! Next are the rules. Every rule is being re-written to make it a batsmen’s game all the way up to the tail. Imran, Walsh, Akram etc. were well known to wipe out the tail. Today, the tail plays as good as the mainline batsmen.

Technology has removed any degree of uncertainty that made the game of cricket what it is. Unpredictability and human error played their own part in swinging the games fortunes. DRS, third-umpire, Snick meter, Hotspot have virtually nullified any stroke of chance a bowler to snare a wicket. Again this technology is in favour of the batsmen. Last but not the least, the boundary line. As a first step in making a realistic comparison between batsmen of this era and of yesteryears is to reduce their runs scored by 10%. Most of today’s sixers (except may be a few by Chris Gayle) were either caught out on boundary line or would have earned four runs few decades ago. Let’s not forget that a six demotivates a bowler more than anything else. Again another anti-bowler step.

Only one thing is working in favour of the bowler, sometimes. Nature. Swing due to cold and heavy weather. Rest is stacked up against the bowlers. A run feast sells more than a wicket feast. Gross commercialization meant playing to the stands (literally!) than playing in the true spirit of the game. One spell from an unknown commodity can bamboozle batsman like what Chhal’s did to the Englishmen.

What is the hope? We can try few things. One, stick to one ball rule in one-day internationals -scoring against an older ball is part of the charm of the game of cricket. Two, uncover the pitches, so that nature plays its part. Three, pull back the ropes of the boundary and let the batsmen earn their runs.

If not, who needs bowlers? Few bowling machines can do the job. When machines are replacing many human jobs, why not that of a bowler?