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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Violation of Sikhism's Basic Tenets

The following is the text of the letter that I sent through email to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), a few months ago, and to which neither has a reply been sent, nor has the practice that I wrote to protest against been stopped:

"Sat Sri Akal,

I would very humbly like to bring to your attention something, which I have noticed and found very perturbing.

The daily Ardas at the Harmandir Sahib, in the evenings, after the recitation of the Rehraas Sahib, in its last stanza, addresses 'Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Ram Das Sahib ji' and 'Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji' but makes no mention of 'Sachche Pita Waheguru'.

I am no learned scholar and am just an ordinary Sikh, but to my mind this does not appear to be in line with the teachings of the ten Gurus as well as the Guru Granth Sahib.

From what I understand, we remember all the ten Gurus as well as the Guru Granth Sahib in the very first stanza of the Ardas, and the final stanza is addressed to 'Sachche Pita Waheguru', the Supreme Being.

I sincerely hope that you will look into the matter at the earliest possible and decide upon the appropriate course of action.

Waheguru ji ka khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh!"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Google's Gaffe

Over the past seven years, since I stepped out of college, I have realised that here in India, at least, the most important requirement for being selected for any job is 'good communication skills'. It does not really matter if the position in question is Rocket Scientist or Software Developer or Business Manager or Salesperson. The chief criterion remains the same.

It does not really matter if a candidate for the position of Rocket Scientist knows little about Rocket Science or if the one who wishes to be selected as a Software Developer is not too well versed with the tools of his or her trade or if the aspiring Business Manager does not know too much about Business Management or if the one who wishes to become a Salesperson for a B2B (business-to-business) IT (information technology) solution has sold only carpets in the past, as long as they all have 'good communication skills'.

The question now arises as to how do companies identify those with 'good communication skills'. It is quite simple really. Any one who uses two hundred words where twenty would suffice, with a fancy term, a 'buzz-word' thrown in here and there, is obviously 'the one' (a la the Matrix series!). It is almost needless to add that the ability to make a mountain out of a molehill encompasses the capacity to lie through one's teeth.

Later, these people are described as 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters', etc., and move up the corporate ladder, less on the basis of any concrete results they might have been able to achieve during their tenure with the organisations employing them, than on account of the visually appealing Power Point presentations they prepare and, once again, knowing where to drop in a buzz-word during the course of glib talk that is passed off as corporate discussion.

Coming to think of it, at least some of this happens overseas, as well, and even has serious repercussions, as is evident from the dot-com bubble burst in the US, when millions of dollars went down the drain because the money-bags, also known as investors, poured funds wherever 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills' asked them to, after being suitably impressed by the castles they built in the air through their fancy presentations.

Closer to home, the shenanigans of these 'star performers' have led to the cancellation of call-centre contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars by companies like Lehman Brothers, Capital One, and Apple cancelled plans to out-source, even after having hired a few people in India.

It is for such reasons, I believe, that Daimler-Chrysler expected their Mercedes Benz cars to sell like hot cakes just because they were launching these in India and, therefore, making the cars available at a much lower price than the cost of importing these that any Indian desirous of owning a Mercedes Benz, earlier, had to bear. It took them a long time to realise that Indians purchase these cars for the prestige value (as a means of showing off their success and wealth, in layman's language). It was then that they introduced the expensive S-class and Maybach cars and, soon thereafter, started making profits.

Similarly, I recall that the armchair-hunters who occupied senior-level management positions in Satyam Infoway decided to give away free coupons for internet access at the company's i-way cyber cafes, many moons ago, based on the premise that this would help increase the market-size by bringing in more first-time customers, who would then get hooked on to the internet surfing experience and hence bring in more business for the company, in a country where very few people own computers and still fewer have internet connections at home. On account of not being in touch with the situation on the ground, they did not realise that small, 'mom-and-pop' businesses operating as cyber-cafes were already providing internet-access at about half the rates of i-way at similar bandwidths and, more importantly, also allowed users to download or upload data from storage media like floppy discs, compact discs, flash drives, etc., which the i-way cafes did not. This was, obviously, not the only reason for the company getting into hot water at a later stage, but definitely symptomatic of the larger malaise that it was afflicted with.

Why then, you may ask, is the Indian economy doing so well, despite the 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills'? I suspect the major advantage that India has in the services sector and, especially, IT Enabled Services, at present, is cost. The growth of services, obviously, has a salutary effect on all other major sections of the economy. As other countries like China beat India at costs, as they surely will, I believe, in the coming years, when they manage to build up sufficient numbers in terms of an English-speaking work-force, the scenario should change dramatically. China, of course, has a far more disciplined and hard-working manpower.

Meanwhile, another company that appears to have succumbed to the charms of 'dynamic', 'proactive', 'go-getters' with 'good communication skills' is Google Inc.! It is not Google's fault, perhaps. Whichever company comes to this part of the world, employs this kind of people at the senior level, who, in turn, go on to employ similar folk at a level junior to them and the chain-reaction continues, until the whole place is teeming with them.

Now, let us examine a very interesting aspect of all that the 'different kettle of fish' have done for Google. In order to make its search-engine even more useful, Google has region- or country-specific home-pages. Any of these pages, I suppose, gives precedence to pages from the particular country or region it serves, while displaying the search-results. This is, obviously, a brilliant idea and one that I would like to congratulate Google for. What is even more brilliant is that each of the country-specific pages provides several alternate interfaces, in different local languages. For instance, the page specific to India has alternate interfaces available in Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil, while the page specific to Pakistan can also be accessed in Punjabi and Urdu, besides English.

Punjab is one of the largest provinces of Pakistan and I am sure that Pakistani Punjabis would indeed have enjoyed using the Google search home-page in their own language, only if they could read it! The text on the Google Pakistan page in Punjabi has been written in the Gurmukhi script, which most Punjabis in the Pakistani part of Punjab can not read (except, perhaps, some members of the small Sikh community there). Most of them read and write the Punjabi language in the Shahmukhi script.

Incidentally, Punjabis in the Indian part of Punjab do read and write the Punjabi language in the Gurmukhi script. So, Google could very well have provided the Gurmukhi interface on its India-specific page, but did not, in spite of the fact that Punjabis form a sizeable percentage of internet-users in India.

Therefore, the bright folk that Google has employed in South Asia have left their indelible stamp on the respective Google search pages for India and Pakistan and Google owes an apology to Punjabis on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.

Update: February 22, 2009. The Gurmukhi interface has recently been made available on Google's page specific to India, even as it had been removed a long time ago from the page specific to Pakistan. Nothing is known regarding any apologies or the possibility of a Shahmukhi interface being made available for Pakistani Punjabis.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Patrol sans Petrol

On a recent visit to the City Beautiful, I saw that the Chandigarh police has acquired this new patrol car. I do not know if it can help them catch many crooks, as this battery-powered vehicle, called the Reva, can not go very far on a single recharge or go very fast (range: 80 kilometres, top speed: 70 kilometres per hour, approximately). To me, it appears to be more of a toy-car than anything else.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Canine Comfort

These stray dogs seem to have enjoyed a good night's sleep on some old, discarded cushions, near where I live. The photograph was taken early in the morning.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Fact of the Matter

I have been inspired to write this by the column that Shobha De (then Kilachand) used to write for a film rag, more than a few years ago.

I recall that the column used to be accompanied by a sketch of a cat holding a cigarette, placed in a holder, in one of its paws. This piece has nothing to do with smoking, which I am strongly against, in any case, and I am more inclined towards dogs than cats, though it is not that I dislike cats.

It just so happened that Bollywood actresses and sisters, Karishma (or Karisma, as numerologists have advised her to call herself) Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor were on a chat show hosted by Karan Johar on television, on sunday evening. Shahid Kapoor was there too. Shahid, incidentally, is not a brother or cousin to Karishma and Kareena and is, in fact, Kareena's boy-friend.

The chat in the show mostly revolved around Shahid and Kareena's relationship. The three guests talked about how it has stood the test of time over the past three years or so, how Shahid and Kareena are perfectly compatible with each other, how the relationship has the blessings of elder sister Karishma (whom Shahid admitted to being quite scared of!), how Kareena has given up eating meat and become more spiritual for the sake of Shahid, how infidelity has never been an issue between them and how glad Kareena would be to cheat on Shahid, if Leonardo DiCaprio were to proposition her.

Interestingly, Shahid appeared flustered for a good part of the show.

One of the questions that KJ asked the Kapoor sisters was about their nick-names. Karishma is also known as Lolo and Kareena as Bebo (pronounciated, these days, as 'Babe-O'). When asked as to where they got their nicknames from, they replied that these had been given to them by their mother, the former Bollywood actress, Babita. Kareena, very helpfully, volunteered the information that her elder sister had been nick-named after the Western actress, Gina Lollobrigida and that, therefore, her nick-name had to be just as stylish. Thus, according to her, Bebo was arrived at.

A little bird tells me, however, that the nick-names were given to the girls by their paternal grand-father i.e. the legendary actor, director and producer, Raj Kapoor. The nick-names, it also tells me, have been derived from Punjabi, which was the language of their forefathers. Lolo means a girl who is a bit silly and not very worldly-wise, whereas Bebo (pronounciated as 'Beebo', in Punjabi) means a girl who is very organised and well-disciplined.

Strange are the ways of the world!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A turning point

My brother is on a train. It shall arrive at Bangalore some time before noon, on March 3. He boarded it late in the evening on March 1, at New Delhi railway station. My parents and I dropped him off there.

He is to join at his new place of work on the fifth of this month.

It is for the first time that he is going to be living away from home, in a city he has never been to before. In fact, it is also the first time that he is travelling so far on his own.

I am reminded of the time when I went to live at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, for a couple of years. It was different in the sense that I had gone there to study and my father had gone along with me all the way, to escort me to the hostel. Also, he has friends at Bangalore, with whom he expects to share a flat, while I knew no one at Indore.

Strangely enough, I remembered yesterday, on account of nothing in particular, the day he was born. I was in standard IV at that time and found the way he cried to be quite in tune with Indian classical music. I was also fascinated with the way he used his tiny hands to tightly clasp one of my fingers and the way he moved his legs (as if pedalling on a bicycle), while lying on the bed. I also remembered the times when he used to ride on my shoulders, while he was quite young.

He behaved a bit oddly too, on the day he left, in the sense that he smashed a light-bulb while trying to retrieve a box from the store, for packing his computer and also crashed my father's car into another, when he went to do some last-minute shopping.

I suppose living away from home signifies a turning point in his life and will help him grow up in a way that he never has so far, in all of his 23 years. I hope, though, that he will be strong and not conduct himself in a manner that would make my parents and I anything less than proud of him.