Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

What ‘Drives’ the world

While we can endlessly debate if the machine that changed the world is an Automobile or a Computer – the machine that is driving the world, literally, is a Car – in its various forms of existence. While a car drives people of the world, what drives a car drives the world politics – Fuel, my dear 🙂 For every era of human history, some fundamental ‘need’ is responsible for the paradigm shifts in world politics and power structure. Age old days it was Food Wars, then it was Metal Wars – for Steel, Gold, Copper, then there were Opium Wars and now the Oil Wars. While wars of yester years were very physical, lot happens off the battlefield these days. Ok, I would be dumb to deny that bombing does not occur – Iraqis and Afghans would kill me if I say so – but there is lot more to what you bomb and when!What happens off the battlefields becomes very important and in my opinion is driving world politics and in turn the lives of millions of people living in those countries. And not surprisingly, Nations have acquired faces and personalities – a friendly one, a meek one, a big brother and a sychophant – so on. (I leave it to your imagination to associate countries to those personalities 🙂 Understanding the economics behind politics, Resources are consumed to produce Goods and Services, which are Consumed by the Market for Money. So logically he who has more resources should be rich, Right? – WRONG.

There is a slightly different road to riches –>
Approach 1: Acquire resources by tact, create goods out of them in your industrialized country and sell them into the same markets that gave you resources and make money – This is what is the famed East India Strategy or Colonial Strategy.
Approach 2: Now that you have money from colonial ages and colonialism is not right, use that money to create weapons, use weapons and acquire resources. Take resources, call it development and send these resources to another nation to create goods, brand it with your name, sell it in markets and make money –> Neo-colonial Strategy applied mostly in African and South American country
Approach 3: Act as if you are the best country in the world, Raise debt in international market, Consume so much that rest of the world becomes your manufacturing shop and you a market, create dependency on your market for survival and use money generated to enjoy and improve this circle –> American Strategy

And so on. So any educated reader can thus make up his own versions of multiple roads to riches. When this consumption levels go beyond control, as a nation you fight for resources with weaker ones. Now the case in point, Oil for American Cars and the wars and politico-economic strategies. Can any country satisfy the American need for Oil? For data, United States consumes 25% of the world oil. China is a distant second with 8% consumption of total world oil. But can someone calculate the per-capital oil consumption? United States ranks 17 and China ranks 138.(Source CIA FactBook 15th March, 2007: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ene_oil_con_percap-energy-oil-consumption-per-capita

World knows how the Gulf has been transformed with the advent of the magic fluid called ‘Oil’. A wonderful must-read I should quote here is the novel called ‘Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif. Read the review to know what it is all about here : http://www.rambles.net/munif_cities85.html) . Now of late, United states has recently made an agreement with Brazil for SugarCane/Corn-based Ethanol production. Read what Fidel Castro has to say on this: http://mathaba.net/news/?x=553874 and this: http://www.pww.org/article/view/10982/ Don’t read it as a communist mouthpiece against US. Read it for the hard numbers quoted. How much more oil, how many more 3rd world lives to drive cars on the massive roads of United States?

I am not a communist, neither am I anti-US. But I vehemently reject the recklessness with which United States consumes resources. And how for the strange connection of economics with politics, US shows agression against ‘target’ states. Is US working towards removing world problems or are they fuelling more? Unwanted agression to satisfy consumption needs under various names from :democracy” and “threat to the world” – all in the end to satisfy the greed of one nation? May be the war is cheaper than investment in public transport in the US or convincing the American consumers to pool their cars!!!

It feels great to drive a wonderful car but I hope someone tries to know what ‘drives’ them, FUEL? Really???? Think deeper!

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare said – “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Boy! Was he wrong or was he wrong!? In the modern world of globalization name is everything. Because names stand for something. Name, more methodically, has transformed to a brand. And look around yourself and everything is a brand. There was a time in this third world country where brands didn’t mean much. So much so that I don’t remember asking for Asheerwad atta ever before in my life except for asking Wheat Flour in the neighbourhood grocery store. But things changed, for better or for worse. Now, test of success in life is measured by how much your name has become a brand – Like Brand Bacchan, Brand SRK, Brand Sachin and so on.

I was made to believe that if I do good work, my ‘name’ would be recognized across schools/towns/states or whatsover. And working hard and well was the ONLY way to it. Not so anymore. Is there a Brand Kumble popular in Indian society – not much – even though he worked hard for Indian cricket. Then on the other extreme is Sachin, a brand from the day he walked in to bat. And then there is a middle path, where people work and brand gets built – Dravid, the Wall brand, for instance. So it is no longer enough to be good at what you do but also consciously work towards building a brand for yourself. And this is the secret to success in office workspaces too. If your name does not represent something like a brand does, then you have serious career growth issues at work. And I suggest that when you work, keep that brand in mind and work towards highlighting your brand personality. (That’s my tip and if you are using it in office from tomorrow, send out a cheque towards royalty!)

My observation of brand popularity is based on the amount of consumerism in an economy. Consumerism in India is becoming popular only for the last 5-8 years. Previously, we just bought a shirt – now people buy a Louis Phillipe or an Allen Solly. People used to buy from a grocery store, now we shop at Food World or a Big Bazaar. And we, as a country, have become conscious of what we buy and where we buy. So much so that you cannot buy commodities any more, only brands. And worldwide businesses have long realized the premiums brands can charge over commodities – be it people or goods. So you pay more for a McKinsey consultant or HP Computer. So what if businesses grow bigger and have multiple products in diverse domains? How do we handle branding across diverse product groups from a same company?

I personally believe, there is no better guy than Steve Jobs, to understand the importance of design and branding. He has ‘pioneered’ successfully/unsuccessfully a lot of new products for the new economy and tech environment. However, one thing that spans across the offerings is a consistent focus on design and simplicity with huge emphasis on branding. The ‘i-series’ of products is a genius idea, I believe. So much so that anything with a name that starts with an ‘i-‘ should be from Apple. i-Mac, i-Pod to the latest i-Phone. But how many people know that Cisco has the copyrights for the name i-Phone? Legal stuff apart, it is unwise on part of cisco to hold a name that starts with an i- and sell it. It would never be associated with Cisco anyway!!!!!

To summarize the moral of the story: There is a lot to a name than meets the eye, err ear! So create a brand for yourself, consistently meet your brand expectations and never flick anyone’s brand proposition cuz you would be charged with ‘trying to be like someone’.

Anyway, my inspiration for starting out to write this piece was a surprise name on my google page – it now reads ‘iGoogle’. WHATTTT…?? I always thought Google is doing a great job of popularizing the ‘g-brand’ with g-talk, g-mail and so on. Why iGoogle now? Is it because “Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt Joins Apple’s Board of Directors” :))

On the other side of ‘unity in diversity’

I have always been a vehement opposer of one of the skewed Tamilian perspectives of language and Indianness. A part of Tam society and their attitude towards Hindi and anything associated with that language is nothing short of pure hatred, so much so that they would rather wait for a day more to know the news of the nation than listen to it in Hindi. I thought that was parochial – too narrow minded, too mean. I consider, my state of this great nation, a little more tolerant and accomodative. Where probably people don’t know Hindi but feel guilty that they don’t do. People make a genuine effort to patch up some words and strike a conversation with a neighbour in Hindi, even though most of the words are those used in the movies and news from Doordarshan. I too joined my voice to the saying – “Hindi is the national language – Rashtra Bhasha. And everyone should know it”.

True, but why is it the Rashtra Bhasha? Because a majority of people speak it! Simple! So what about the minority? I never thought of what it means to be a minority, genuinely. I have never experienced it. Didn’t I? I questioned myself. I tried to put myself in positions where I am in the minority. My 20-day trip to Thailand, where for more than 10hours of a day, I was the only one with eyes bigger than the ‘usual’. My first trip to Delhi where I somehow am different from the people around. My first trip to chennai. You can probably put it under the category – xenophobia – but it does not take away the merit of my argument. Minority or majority, every person and race has an identity. An identity unique to themselves, an identity that represents who I am. An identity that is a sum total of my upbringing, my values, my habits and my beliefs. This identity is what differentiates me from the guy next to me. This identity differentiates an Indian and an American. While people have varied degrees of self glory in terms of which culture is great, which is not – which race is intelligent and who are fools etc – I personally think that it is a collective responsibility of humanity to protect the diversity of cultures- To preserve the diversity of thoughts and existences – human, animal or plant.

However, while accepting to be accommodative of various cultures, can someone ask me to give up an identity just because it is a minority? Probably not. The counter argument is that there is a difference between being accomodative and giving up your identity. I would restrict this argument to India and not generalize it to the world for this piece of writing.

Courtesy IT boom , I see that there is a lot of skepticism and hatred brewing within the local population in many of the south indian cities against the “intruders”. In this era of globalization, even within India there is a lot more cultural friction than it was in the past. And along with it the problems of cultural stereotyping and associated issues. And in all this, the majority thinks there is an intrusion into their culture and way of life while the majority thinks people are just being parochial. The friction comes out in multiple ways – I was a victim in a lot of cases and I felt that those guys were ruthless and racial!

As one of my Tam friends put it – “You cannot force a south Indian to learn Hindi if a north Indian cares no two hoots for South’s unique culture and language.” That got me thinking. Cursing myself for thinking in a way that increases the divide within India – “Are the south indians giving up too much?” Seriously, why does not a North Indian learn kannada, telugu or tamil even after living in a place for a decade in some instances. While I have seen Tam junta living in Mumbai speaking Hindi, even knowing that they are mocked at their accent. They know that its important to speak the language of the land to be accepted. Another learned Kannadiga friend of mine said – “I am surprised that a guy going to France on a project for an year, takes french classes for 3 months. And the same guy lives in bangalore for 5 years and cannot even say anything beyond kannada gottilla and enjoy maadi! – even they have one english word in both”

Let us put the parochial argument aside and see if the majority (for instance kannadigas in Bangalore!) have a point. I am trying to see a point. A point, just like in my previous post, (I don’t know how many read it!) is to take away the reason for hatred. I am starting to believe this is the panacea for all acts of hatred – take away the reason for hatred or atleast try to take it away and add a smile on the way. That is how I deal with it now, speak in Kannada and smile to say that I am Work In Progress 🙂

India is a melange of multiple worlds and that is something we keep forgetting. We cover ourselves with an illusion of One India, One great Bharat etc. While ideally, all of it is true – we are a million worlds. I personally feel that we are a mini-Europe. Every place/state has its share of culture, traditions and values. As long as you don’t appreciate and blend in, you remain an outsider living in India. In the same tone, I should however condemn the extremes – wherever they are. A great race/state is one which accepts everyone and grows on to retain its uniqueness.

‘Gult’ Thoughts:

Btw, I think Andhra overdoes the being accomodative part unlike our neighbours in chennai. We give up a little too much in our quest to be acceptable by the rest of India and rest of the world. While the entire Tam Brahm community from California flies down to Chennai for the Tyagaraja Aaradhanotsavas, we have totally forgotten the fact that Tyagaraja was a Telugu. And we have to make do with listening to Unni Krishnans of the world singing exquisitely written Telugu songs like “Bantu reeti koluveeyavayya Rama” in some really odd accents and lack of understanding of the meaning. (Note: I totally admire Unni for his carnatic vocal prowess!)

We have given up our culture and traditions so much so that we have forgotten our cultural heroes – Annamayya, Tyagaraju etc. An interesting fact came out the other day in my research that it is only Andhra Pradesh, that has accepted the name suggested by Mr. Nehru. You can notice how Hindi it sounds – is there a word called pradesh that is in telugu colloquial use – is there any other southern state that has such hindi-sounding ending? 🙂 However, I think its our problem – not a problem with someone forcing it on us :))

Lighter Note:

Without the diversity I talked about, I sometimes think that, the world would be like US retailing experience 🙂 Wherever you go, you will always buy from Walmart, Albertsons, Krogers all looking boringly similar and big …. 😉 That way, without the Indian and Mexican flea markets, US would have totally sucked for a shopper from a country like mine :)) And sadly, India too has started to move towards that with Food Worlds and BigBazaars!

Whose war are they fighting?

Whose war are they fighting?3600 Coalition forces personnel and 25170 Iraqi Military and Civilians are killed since the beginning of the Iraq war. And these are just the official figures (http://icasualties.org/oif/ and http://www.antiwar.com/casualties/) and does not include the people killed every evening in the Iraqi market places by some car bomb or a suicide bomber. Does anyone count still? Does anyone in the rest of the world even vaguely remember that there is an active war on in Iraq? I read these news and it throws up a zillion questions on life – Do I understand how happy I should be to be alive and not limping. Do I appreciate how lucky I am to come to office, work in a secure air-conditioned workplace and drive back home to my wife and kid? I feel overwhelmed by the sheer power of the thought that there are places in this world where people lack this basic comfort of a normal human life!

I am not talking logic here; because rationale ceases to exist where the war starts. People talk reason only till the first shot is fired. After that it is an eye for an eye. After that every other shot is either reasoned with one of the two: Vengeance or a fear that a second shot ‘might’ be fired. Analyze it and you see that it’s a very simple closed loop algorithm with no ‘break’. And not surprisingly, both sides use the same algorithm. So a war can never be won forever and history vouches for it. Nations remember defeat, groups of people brew the grudge. So its only a temporary stop – positive steps can only lengthen the time period between wars.

After I realized that wars are a never ending phenomenon embedded into the history of human civilizations, I started thinking of ways to increase the ‘calm’ period between wars. Was there ever a period when no wars were fought and the entire mankind lived peacefully together? Perhaps not. In no Yug or eon of time, did it happen. A time of complete peace – There is always a war between the Gods and the demons. Definitions are just a matter of which side you are standing. From the vedic periods (Rig Veda!), when some Devatas of the post ice-age were mastering the sciences of engineering and anatomy, the other bunch of Devatas were fighting a war with Dasyas. While the vedic rishis were mastering science and spirituality in the tough yet peaceful Himalayan heights, there were a bunch of their countrymen (!!?) fighting war. Removing the ‘allusive’ symbolisms of vedas (as beautifully decoded by Aurobindo in his ‘The Secret of Vedas’), the dasyas were fighting the aryans to steal their cattle and food. Cause while Devatas have plenty of riches and foods, Dasyas were suffering from hunger and weather. (I know this is a WRONG WRONG example – The Vedic kings of the yore were extremely responsible citizens of the planet!!)

The reason I wrote so much about a vedic age war is to just bring out the similarities of reason. Now it is very easy to see why Iraqis are fighting back or why Somalians are fighting in Mogadishu – they are not fighting for a religion, they are not fighting for a cause. They are fighting because of their ‘lack’ while a whole new world on the other side suffers from ‘excess’. They hate a country, a land of free will and of million opportunities because of the thought (??) that The Nation is dancing over their poverty and their cadavers. They hate the problems of obesity and ‘fashion’-induced anorexia while their kids die of hunger everyday infront of their eyes. They hate it when ‘The Nation’ spends millions on advanced research to convert edible corn into fuel. Put the religion aside for a while and think of what Iraqis, Somalians and millions of Africans go through when they realize that the sugarcane and corn that they grow in their fields would be used to fuel “The Nation’s” cars. It throws me, a well educated comfortably living Indian, into an abyss of deep thought – How many more cars on those vast roads, how many more fuel guzzling monsters with one person driving inside?
How long will a nation justify its greed with its capabilities? How long can one nation use up so many resources of the planet with a faint sense of respect and responsibility?

Is it not surprising that many people who are fighting war in Iraq from Iraq’s side are first timers to terrorist activities? (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0718/dailyUpdate.html) What is pushing them to this? You can read the biographies of hundreds of popular terrorists like Khalid Sheik Mohammed etc and see that these guys are well read and more so studied in the US before becoming terrorists. What drove them to it? I used to link it to the religion they followed, like a whole lot of us who directly/indirectly, openly/covertly do. But there must be more than just the religion. They must have found a symbolism to a ‘demon’ or a ‘satan’ in the opposition that they are fighting. An apparition, part of it true and part of it created.

All soldiers of war need to be shown the ‘bad’ side of opposition to create a strong reason to fight. Be it the crusades or the jihad or just a plain simple War against a dictator! It’s time for us to question, is there some thing more than the religion that is inciting this? A war cannot be won with more troops. Its an age-old war tactic that a war has to be won psychologically – first by draining the soldiers of their energy and then by draining the soldiers of their ‘motivation’ or reason. If you take away the reason, the soldiers see nothing but bloodshed. When you take away the principle, its becomes just plain carnage. Its no longer a crusade or a jihad. Think of it yourself, no sane human mind can justify violence without reason. You can analyze any crime and check it yourself.

In Iraq, now a lot of US soldiers are losing that reason to fight! They don’t see a reason to bomb a civilian home. All the reasons of Saddam being a dictator, a person who kept Iraq in shackles, a person who held weapons of world destruction, all have gone flat. Then whose war are these innocent troops fighting, dying away from their families, butchered by a mass of people taking out all their vengeance against an entire nation on a bunch of individuals? Defending what and whom are these innocent soldiers dying? Atleast the other side has a reason for death – the need to take revenge, the need to die for a religious cause etc etc. They are atleast dying a valiant death , “thinking” that they would be martyrs. What are these coalition troops dying for? The other side might lose more people, but this side is dying a more painful one. This side is paying a price for a nation’s mistakes. So psychologically, US troops are fighting a lost war.

Can all the nations with a will for peace repeat the tactic on the other side? Can they take away the reason for these poor, illiterate foot soldiers and jihadis of Africa/Kashmir/MiddleEast to fight against US and the developed world? I believe there is an end to this massacre only if the solution is in that direction. Only if the countries show more responsibility to the planet and by reaching out to the fellow citizens – it might require tougher choices. It might require sacrifices -starting from leaving your car back at home and using public transport!!! 🙂

NOTE: Have written this piece to induce thought and as often happening with my latest writings, it is more emotional and less rational. So there can be infinite logical loopholes and pick them for your own intellectual curiosity 🙂