Times of India

An Old Idea for Today

My friends in the corporate world tell me that India managers, especially in accounting firms, are confused and demoralized after the governance scandals in America involving Enron, Anderson and others. Their situation is, of course, nothing compared to the devastation wrought to the morale of the American manager, and I observed this at ringside over several days when I was recently with a dozen senior managers in Chicago.

White Noise in Society

The Bhagavad Gita is like white noise in our society. By this I mean that it is part of the background din of our lives, quoted platitudinously, and masking rather than provoking thought. Technically, white noise like white light contains all the frequencies and is used to hide other sounds--the way one uses a fan sometimes to shut out the noise of traffic in order to sleep. In the same way the Gita's presence is imperceptible yet comforting, like the random sounds of a Hindi film song in the bazaar.

Shourie Will Succeed

Arun Shourie, our minister for disinvestment, was a year ahead of me in school. We attended an NCC camp together, and on the last day took part in a variety show, where the local commanding general was our chief guest. Some sang, others performed a skit, and Shourie decided to recite a long Urdu poem. During the interminable recitation the general started to fidget. His solicitous ADC noticed it, and tried to catch Shourie's eye. At first Shourie ignored him, but then he stopped abruptly. In a soft, polite, but firm voice, the 15-year-old Shourie said that if the general had another pressing engagement, his eminence was welcome to leave, and the show would go on.

Something's in A Name

We lived in Mexico City for four years in the late seventies, and there learned an important civic virtue: how to name our streets. Our first home was in a neighbourhood called Polanco, where all the streets were named after writers, and Shakespeare, Dickens, Tagore and other literary greats surrounded us. We lived on the corner of La Fontaine and Homer, while our friends lived between Dante and Cervantes.  To visit a colleague a few blocks away I had to cross Tolstoy, Goethe, Jane Austen and Ibsen. Once I got lost in the colony and by the time I found myself I had received a comprehensive lesson in world literature.

Golden Arches East

Although the strident criticism against American fast food has died and 34 McDonald's restaurants have quietly opened in India, critics of globalisation don't tire of reminding us that the world is increasingly becoming a copy of America. McDonald's amazing success in a hundred countries has impressed business students for years, but to others the expression McWorld conjures scary images of cultural imperialism and a uniform, standardised, homogenized consumer world.

Coming of Age

An extraordinary thing happened this summer whose significance has escaped almost everyone. While the nation was engrossed in petrol pumps, Shivani's murder, and other weighty matters, Wipro, the software company in Bangalore, quietly bought Spectramind, a call centre in Delhi, from ChrysCapital, a venture capital fund. The call centre was valued at Rs 606 crores and this landmark event sent a strong positive signal to the global financial world that India may finally be coming of age.

A Fine Balance

Last week I met a young lady from Japan. We got talking and she said that she was travelling around India exploring our spiritual traditions. In an unguarded moment she admitted that she was seeking solace from her lonely, banal and desperate life and hoped that India might offer her a spiritual guide to the art of living. Nothing unusual in that, I thought. She is part of a great tradition of travellers to India who have sought consolation from the material world. The tendency goes back to Fa Hien and Huan Tsang, two Chinese travellers in the first millennium AD, who came looking for Buddhist wisdom.

A South Asian Puzzle

The stubborn persistence of child malnutrition in India is truly one of the tragedies of our time. Many of us have long agonised over this preventable problem, and we continue to ask, why do half our children not get either enough or the right food or adequate care? Even in sub-Saharan Africa only thirty percent of the children are malnourished versus fifty percent in South Asia. And this 20-point gap exists despite our much higher levels of per capita income, education and even safer water access. One-third of the babies in India are born with low birth weight compared to one-sixth in sub-Saharan Africa.

Guiding Your Karma

The recent World Cup of football entertained 1.5 billion around the world, and people drew all sorts of lessons, but it confirmed to me once again the role of luck in human affairs. At crucial moments, it was not skill that separated winners from losers but chance, and part of the peculiar beauty of human excellence on the football field is, I expect, its vulnerability to things we cannot control. If it was skill alone Brazil should have won all the 14 World Cups, as the German coach confessed.