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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honesty is ? policy

Four incidents in a month. Some are small, others not, but they definitely made an impression. Sometimes life throws you a hint. Should you take it, learn, change yourself and move on? Or should you stick by your principles?

When I was waiting to join my current firm, I started teaching high school students in Mayo College in Ajmer. I was appointed to be a all-purpose-teacher who could teach students Mathematics, Science an English and also guide them in career counselling, personality development, resume writing, group discussions, interview skills, and public speaking. Principal thought that my MBA background and eclectic career could be useful in ways mentioned above. It was fine for first two weeks, then things started going out of control. To be honest, I am not very good teacher to reluctant students, which is what bunch of teenagers in their 10th and 12th grades are. I do have a passion for teaching and can be extremely useful for those who genuinely want to learn, as I found out in another teaching opportunity I had. So, while personality development and public speaking are extremely essential for success in personal and corporate life, these are things no one appreciates least of all at the age when girls are the number one topic in mind and gay jokes are the most funniest ones (in this particular school). My notion of being friendly to students, to mentor them like a friend and elder brother rather than hardcore disciplinarian was also shattered when soon students started taking advantage of me. So what did I do? I tried to create interest among students but when it didn’t happen I talked to Principal and declared that my usefulness was now very marginal with this group and I should do few other things that I had proposed. Honest thing to do, right? Right, so he said, why don’t you stop coming from tomorrow. Who got fired? It wasn’t bad money either. I could’ve just wasted time in class and none would’ve been wiser.

After I was let go, to use an condescending euphemism, Vice-Principal provided me lead to Principal of sister school, Mayoor, which was also quite good school in the area. I wasn’t even spoken to properly and just thrown out, let alone hired, when other Principal learnt that, surprise of surprise, my views on coaching classes didn’t match his own. Having claimed that I wasted my IIT degree by doing an MBA later, he goes on to state that he wouldn’t let anyone who held views such as mine near ‘his’ children. Now, I agree that views don’t have to match, but is it too much to expect patient hearing or open mind, specially from a person of his class and education? If I had known he only wanted yes-man in his staff, I’d have behaved otherwise. Speaking honestly didn’t help me, even when it was on topic much irrelevant to primary discussion. Perhaps part blame lies with me, not because of speaking my mind, but because of wrong timing. It appears to me that not trying to differ from others is a good way to make relationship work, even if it is not honest.

When I started teaching students for CAT examination for a coaching class, I received another opportunity at other institution. Since I was merely spending two hours at the first, I thought I had time to work on second too. Apparently, they don’t hire you if you are working with competitor. Fair enough, I guess, from their point of view. They would’ve given me if I had not mentioned that and they couldn’t have found out anyway. Self-infliction once again?

The biggest and most remarkable story remains to be told. Before I had offer for my current job, I had offer for another job. First job was to start in April and second was to start four months later in August. Overall, I wanted to second one from long term career point of view. I could have, either, joined first in April and quit in July and joined second later, or, refused first and waited for four months and then joined second. First option seemed unfair to me. To join a job knowing you’ll quit after three months was deceitful. Yes, their was substantial money on the way, but it felt wrong. So I did the right thing and chose second option. I also requested them to convert my full time position into internship for three months. Not only was I refused offer of internship but I was also not even thanked for it, even though I had made it explicit in the rejection letter. Apparently, they could afford me for the same role at full pay but not at nominal one. Was I right or not. I am not so sure. When companies fire their employees without compunctions, and they have right to do so, without bothering about their families or career, is it worth trying to save some money and time to big corporation by taking personal loss by choosing the right path?

Is there thing called too much honesty? Do you think I made wrong decision in any of above incidents? Do you think I should stop doing so at personal cost? Do you think I am over reacting and perhaps seeking sympathy with this post?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Journey on the floor

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For some it may be daily occurrence but for readers of this blog, it isn’t likely to be so. For me, I’ve travelled on the floor of bus or train only two times so far.

When I see people on the floors of train or bus, I usually think that these people either couldn’t afford reservation or didn’t plan in advance. They also appear mostly poor people. There is something humiliating (also unhygienic) about having to sit on floor while other passengers sit or stand. Even if I am not travelling and am tired of standing, I find it insulting to sit on footpath or corridor or platform. It’s natural reaction and not a big issue. Point I am trying to get into is that I found this more in India than in United States. It wasn’t uncommon to see students at MIT sprawling on the corridor of campus and doing their homework or chatting. It wasn’t frequent but it stood out more simply because that did never happen in India. Of course, there is no doubt where corridors were cleaner.

First time I travelled unreserved journey on floor of train was when my Grandmother died and we had to make an emergency journey to deposit her ashes to river Ganga. We didn’t try unreserved compartments because they were so cramped that even floor space was not available. I was young and with my uncle who tried to get us seat by bribing the ticket conductor. Perhaps there were more bribers than number of seats, or perhaps bribe was insufficient, I don’t remember, we didn’t get any. Tired of standing over hours and sleepy to core, I just collapsed on the floor and slept without effort. It was strange experience, being woken up when people walk by and feeling embarrassing at heart. We managed somehow and I don’t remember making much fuss, perhaps because I was younger and hadn’t developed ‘tastes’, but it was journey to be remembered over time.

Second journey was for short duration of two hours in the middle of night when only bus we could find back was a private overnight coach which had all seats occupied. Probably driver made few bucks underhanded without knowledge of his owner.

Have you ever travelled on the floor? Would that be experience you remember or want to try?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Temporarily dead aka asleep

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It doesn’t incite concern for it’s part of daily life. Yet, if one were to think about it, sleep is a very strange phenomenon. Being asleep is closest one could get to experiencing death and being able to wake up to tell about it. Is it not strange that every day we are overcome by stupor which necessitates us to stop doing whatever we do and just fall unconscious: vulnerably and helplessly? Is it not terrifying that we completely lose passage of time and awareness of our surrounding when we are sleeping? How long eight hours pass in a instant and we don’t even have a clue where our life went then? Would you not be paranoid if you didn’t know what happened with you for those odd hours beyond your own control? This Onion articles tells it as it is. We’d be petrified if not for the fact that it is talking about night and sleeping. Yet, we don’t really think about it at all. Except, when an stranger from alien land displays shock about this strange habits of humans (and other species) and our nonchalance about it, as it did in a small story by Isaac Asimov.

Science has been proving that sleep is very useful for our body. It is so important, in fact, that you would die earlier if you didn’t sleep than if you didn’t eat. It helps us relax our body machine. It helps us digest (notice sour burps after long sleeplessness). It helps process and organize memories (lack of sleep results in loss of memory). It helps repair and maintain our body cells damaged during the day. Sleep occurs in roughly 90 minutes cycles of regular sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Brain repairs body in regular cycle and itself in REM cycle, where we are in very deep sleep. An opinion on internet suggests that if we sleep in multiples of 90 minutes, we may be able to avoid groggy eyes and wake up cheerful even after shorter sleep. There is no scientific confirmation of this. We know what sleep does, but we still don’t know why and how.

Why would sleep evolve through Darwinian evolution? What advantage could an being immovable, unaware and vulnerable over hours  had over those who didn’t sleep? Intuitively, it fails logic. An specie which learned to sleep will soon be devoured by predators even if other which didn’t is slow or stupid (some links* on the topic). Yet, most animal species sleep, indicating that development of sleep must have occurred long ago in evolution tree.

What science hasn’t understood completely, and what has huge implication of our society, is the frequency of sleep. It somehow came to be understood that sleeping once a day during night is the right way. Modern biology has even told us about the required length for good sleep. Most of it is driven by industrial revolution and non-agrarian societies. However, what remains unexplored, is if sleeping twice a day for equal duration or any other combination of duration might work better. People have different personal experience on this one but I find that an hour nap in afternoon increases productivity of rest of day significantly. On a fanciful note, I had always wished that we had capacity to store sleep upfront when there is much time for later when there isn’t enough.

Next time when you hit the sack do ponder over our very little understanding of such an important and obscure phenomenon.

*This argument seems invalid to me because as Richard Dawkins tells in The Selfish Gene, it’s not survival of the fittest specie that is aimed towards by evolution but survival of the fittest gene.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mystery novels

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At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable. — Raymond Chandler

And that precisely tells you why I am in love with Agatha Christie’s work but find Arthur Conan Doyle’s placid at best. I’ve had this discussion/debate with many over the years who recommend me later when discovering my fascination with former. I have almost always tried to convey the above and almost always failed.

Having read about one and an half dozen of Christie’s work, what I am always awed by is that all the facts, thoughts, meanings, gestures, relationships and clues are staring at reader’s face from the beginning — except that one doesn’t realize so then. When Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple reveal a solution, reader is overwhelmed by incredulity for not noting something so obvious, embarrassment for being so fool and amazement for the genius of Christie. Always, it will be one simple dialogue or action which will be crux of solution, and always, it will be burried somewhere inconspicuously in whole novel. Her best novel, regarded so by me and most other fans, even has murderer telling the story in his own words.

On the contrary, master of deductive logic Sherlock Holmes, unravels facts one by one himself when dishing out answer to the mystery. If one is free to introduce new information, hidden from readers so far, then reading the novels feels mere meek witnessing of drama rather than a actual participation (however pathetic) in mystery hunt. If I can tell you at last minute that butler was long lost nephew of rich aristocrat whose mother was wronged by him, then it brings out new meaning to ‘butler did it’ out of the blue. It also provides author the leeway to be incomplete in the screenplay since all information pertinent to solution can be made to appear out of nowhere at the end, and mere meek connection is required to prove why detective choose to pursue that line of investigation leading to new information. It is problem reverse with leaving threads hanging at the end: new threads appear in the end. In contrast, Christie is required to apply much rigid standards in her writing where she has to provide all information beforehand without actually making it easy for reader to put together the pieces of puzzle. This is not to say that Doyle’s novels are not interesting in their own right, but they can’t really be called mystery novels and rank far below Christie’s work.

What’s your take if you have read both Doyle and Christie, or on mystery novels in general?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Concept of Nation State

Increasingly, we all are tolerant of differences within our country. A person from whichever corner of India finds welcome, at least in theory, in any other corner of India. Laws make it easy to move, to work and to settle wherever one wants. Such intra-country freedom is common in most other countries. What we are still fiercely protective about are our national borders. Somehow, barbed wire fences there attach so much meaning that killing and dying for them is considered laudatory whereas doing same for borders within the nation is considered ridiculous and dangerously divisive.

Will there come a time where concept of nation state will dissolve to permit real global citizenship? It seems impossible. Despite our acceptance of different cultures, nationalities and races, country still gets number one priority spot in our loyalties (after family and clan, for some). One would rather save one life in his own country than ten in other. Yet, this distinction stops within different states in a country. A geography under highest government is expected to be inclusive. Will it be possible to have one government for the world in future? This is mere hypothetical question but it will mean that policies will be designed for overall welfare of humankind rather than that of citizens of a particular nation at any cost to other people in the world. Will it ever be understood that all lives are really equal? What will it do to idea of patriotism which will be a defunct concept then.

These are thoughts I never harboured or had inkling about until that day about four years ago when I happened to meet this women at AID’s picnic. She strongly championed elimination of concept of nation state and questioned my views on patriotism. I am not really sure where I stand but idea has been fascinating enough to stick with me this long.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Penny for your thought

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You probably have heard about this joke puzzle:
When it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put two cents in, who gets the other penny?
Having recently incurred substantial cost in exchanging INR to GBP, answer dawned on me suddenly while walking to work today. 2 cents corresponds to about 1.25 pennies. 0.25 penny is simply transaction cost of currency exchange. I feel pretty good now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Making me feel small

Minimum salary of IIM graduate is about a crore per anum. If the wisdom on the street is to be believed, that is. Thanks to sensational and false media coverage over the years, in part fuelled by the IIMs themselves, average Natthu in India thinks that being Crorepati is a norm. For people with access to reality, things couldn’t be more different (and hilarious). We are still searching for that mythical invisible Crorepati amidst us. It’s true, no doubt, that average remuneration packages for students of top colleges are higher than those of students of smaller or less well known colleges, yet they are not astronomical and are pittance compared to what people think they earn. It’s all about perception.

That brings us to next topic. If you want to make a successful person feel embarrassed about his achievement, what should you do? Oh, just compare him to even more successful person. So if I am proud of my 95% in a test or happy about two weeks' training opportunity in London, how do you make me feel bad? Just casually ask me if I got 99%. What will I say? I will sighs and say, no I got less. Of course, if you had asked if I got 90% then I will proudly declare that no, I got more. You might as well mention that two weeks is such ridiculously small time period that it's laughable.

I think it makes sense to underestimate achievements of others when talking to them so that to give them opportunity to correct upward. It’s not only civilized but also polite and positivity inducing. Appears that many people just don’t get this. Combine this with above false perception and I am left wondering what did I achieve after years of work and studies?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guarding the nation

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Private security industry in India has seen a remarkable rise in recent years. This is primarily led by rise in number of business and residential campuses and rise in terrorists incidents over the years. However what counts as security leaves much to be desired and guards standing with their uniforms on are suited to tasks no better than shoeing away an occasional dog or beggar.

It’s not their fault really. They are on a job for which they are not trained. Being able to notice suspect in crowd, being able to detect suspicious behaviour, and being able to respond and fight back if need arise are skills which require professional training and armaments. Instead of that what they are given is nothing. What they are asked to do is even ridiculous and mostly beyond their comprehension. How many times did you wonder if the guard at mall checking metal objects on your body knows about meaning of beeps on his instrument? I cannot recollect having seem them acting differently whether it beeps or not. They do it merely as ritual, a job they have been asked to do. Another strange things that they do in residential and business campuses is to use a mirror to check under the car. One is not sure what they are looking for if not for a bomb with clear red lights blinking. I have not seen or heard of such practice anywhere else in the world but it seems staple of Indian security organizations. Some go as far as to check trunk and bonnet of the car but don’t bother about looking inside car or under seats. So best place to carry a gun would indeed be in your hands were you to want to sneak one. My recent visit to Bombay after last tragic attack highlighted reactive nature of our fight against terrorism. Hotels are now required to screen you and your luggage ala airport security at their front gate.

In office complex I work, I will be let inside if I show them my ID card. Let me rephrase that. I will be let in if they see something hanging from my neck. I am certain that they don’t know which companies are in complex and what their ID looks like. They probably can’t read as well nor they ask me to turn around my card if it happened to be face down. In my previous college, security will not stop you at gate if you didn’t look like poor labourer. It’s all about appearance: good clothes and car, and you can’t be terrorist really.

On a related note, anyone who has lived in hostels in India can testify the futility of having to note down one’s name and contact details on security register when visiting ladies hostels. This is purely because self reported entry cannot really be depended upon to be truthful were one to have intention to appear otherwise, and also because mostly illiterate guards cannot decipher what, and if something, has been written in the first place. No wonder people would write whatever they had in mind including ‘Superman’ as name.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Truth about (a) Facebook quiz

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There are two types of people on the Facebook®: those who don’t take those annoying quizzes and those who are stupid morons.

When you are done wiping that smirk/disdain from your face, let me tell you here how the Facebook quizzes work. Or at least one of them does, which seems fair indicator of what goes on with others as well, coming from the person who is behind the design of that particular quiz.

Once you are done answering a random and arbitrary set of questions, don’t expect results to reflect really your potential or personality or any such trait quiz claims to estimate. What you see as result is actually one from few chosen responses designed to look funny and fascinating enough so that you publish them on your profile and thus advertise the application. After all, who would want to publish results of a quiz which fairly stated whatever it was supposed to estimate. And if quiz mentions your rank among number of people who took it, most likely both numbers are randomly generated. In fact, any number is most likely random. Any other option to unsubscribe the application, send in an error message or suggestions are probably landing in a dump email account. As a general rule, whatever be the result of quiz, it probably has nothing to do with your responses and is already pre-set.

Of course, in bigger scheme of things, there are two types of people on Earth: those that are on Facebook and those that have better things do in life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

In want of a proof

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These days I am desperately in need of a proof: of my residential address. I need it to take a mobile connection on my name. I need it to apply for credit card. I need it to transfer my bank account from my previous branch. I need it to have my internet banking reactivated where they can send me password. I need it to open a trading account. I can see why they need it. Unfortunately, they don’t see why I don’t and can’t have one.

Things that count as proof in India are your passport, driving license, bank statements, electricity bills, telephone bills, credit card bills, PAN card and lease agreement. Sadly, as you would have noticed, in absence of proof of address I cannot have statement and bills which would have constituted proof of address. Passport is issued for ten years and hence has my address from nine years ago. PAN card doesn’t list address and driving license is a twenty year valid document listing my address from six years ago. I live with my friend from college and hence don’t have a lease agreement and electricity bills comes in his name. I was able to manage a mobile connection because service provided accepted my permanent address proof, rather than current residential address proof, and issued me a SIM. But since I have a pre-paid connection and don’t get a bill, that option is eliminated as well. Only thing that I can have is a letter from my company saying where I live which apparently doesn’t count. So, as you can see, I am not only desperately in need of a proof but also I don’t have any solution to my problem in sight in short or in long term (except, perhaps just to have a post-paid connection so that I get phone bill and start the chain from there).

On an even worse note, I don’t really even have a proof of permanent address simply because my dad is in transferable job and lives as tenants in an apartment. As explained earlier, his passport and driving license carry old addresses and electricity bill comes in name of lesser. We don’t have a landline at home since both of my parents have mobiles and lease agreement is still something they have to work out, primarily because word of mouth is strong enough mostly. I don’t know how do other people do it but if you have an answer, please do help me. I will sincerely appreciate it and I mean it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Double entendre Oxymoron

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“Practice makes a man perfect”, so goes the saying. So what makes a woman perfect? Perhaps she already is. Alright, that was lame. But that’s not the point of this post.

Consider the sentence: “No practice makes a man perfect”. Does it mean that not doing any practice makes a man perfect (and practice ruins perfection), or that, no amount of practice will make a man perfect? Is there any grammatical mistake in this sentence or does it convey two contrasting but legitimate meanings? Does this phenomenon has a linguistic definition? What are other examples of such kind?
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