Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The middle children of India.

If you were born and brought up in the 90's this post is a direct reference to the lives we live. The past 2 odd decades have made India witness some of the most ecstatic of all transformations. While the world took 3 and a half decades to move from 1G mobile telephony to 4G, we took a mere 18 years. And the same has been applicable on almost all fronts. But beyond the bustling parapet of success and evolution, lies the core element that is not very established, to say the least. There's no denying we are way better than many of our ancestors and we should just pause for a moment and even pat ourselves on the back. But basis my own reflections on my life, and basis serious conversations and heartfelt banters with friends, I've realized that all in all, something is always amiss. If you've ever felt that way, read on and maybe you can relate. If not, than this will just come across as the rudimentary rambling of a maudlin man. 

We're the middle children of India. Our grandparents witnessed the struggle for independence and lived in severe frugalty, our parents, bound by pressures of succeeding, were honed and chiseled by the challenges of their times. Our future progeny are promised the most copacetic of lives. But we, the middle children, are lost somewhere in between these extremes. 

We bequeathed from our parents a long legacy of pride in taking the small steps towards success. Our parents were never boisterous for they succeeded one step at a time, with no premonition whatsoever. Born out in astute families, they drove lives on optimization. So they'll often tell stories of getting the maximum out of the minimum. We, on the other hand, have things aplenty. From the economy of shortages in 80's where even the rich couldn't attain all possessions, to today where even a pauper gets a car without a collateral. On paper, the lives have improved. But in reality, we missed a big facet in there. 

We're exposed to enormous amounts of availability. We're born in a generation where we adulate the riches and have plenty of role models that way. We follow trends and we blatantly follow suit. We allow heroes to be born overnight and have an inexorable appetite for more stars to cherish. We put France's flag on our Facebook display picture without even knowing why everyone else did that. We start taking selfies and have produced the maximum number of casualties while doing so. We have superstars whose movies lack any possible purpose, and on the other hand stars who even indulge in real life social service are neglected. We pursue courses not because we want to, but because someone else did that and set the vogue. And we even tend to suddenly fall in love because everyone is doing that so we ought to as well. The common denominator among these is our lack of decision making abilities, and our monstrous proclivity to let someone else shape our future! 

Preceded by folks who just embraced a free nation and who were entrusted with carving a new India out of the ashes of a forlorn and torn apart British colony, it's debatable whether they did the right things or not. Other economies which were set free along with ours soared and rocked while we're moving at snail's pace. However, the last few generations at least took charge and did stuff. We on the other hand, are just taking cue from the world.

We don't set trends, we seek them. We don't make decisions, we make situations take decisions for us. We're too afraid, we're too petrified to try something new, unless of course we follow a trend on that as well. We don't make bold moves, unless a path tread by someone else is proved right. We're seldom trailblazers, and those of us who become so, become icons and superstars beyond any match. We've become a society that has only a few limited types of heroes who are followed blindly, while the real heroes who wither under the hegemony of neglect and weak bulwarks, are often scoffed at for being lunatics. 

We've never assumed charge of what we want the nation to become. We've become a replica of what all of us individually are. During the freedom struggle, India for the first time saw its best factions. There were moderates and extremists. There were those same old chauvinists who kept women out and then there were suffragists. Those factions were welcome because we as a nation started taking stands after a lot of time. But the last time we took a stand was when our fathers left the cozy confines of their homes and took charge of their destiny. We, on the other hand, simply did what our fathers passed on to us. 

People became IAS officers, and suddenly that became the buzz of the town. Certain other professions like medicine, engineering and management took apex positions. Certain well celebrated professions like law lost the glamour. And noble professions like art lost a large cohort of followers. The first trends were set and you found a barrage of people aiming for the same piece of the pie, and a larger pie having no claimants. Latest of the trends is the IT and service sector. Everyone wants to purse a degree that lands them in this sector. No one wants to go into manufacturing. And surprisingly, no one realizes that one day we may not be manufacturing at all, but would just be servicing manufacturers from all over the world. 

We've lost all ground and we've become followers of the leaders of the world. We managed to secure a place for ourselves alright, but it's not at par with our competitors. It's not about the intensity with which other economies expand and countries prosper. It's about the identity crisis we find ourselves in. We're constantly limiting our vision and on the other hand we get swayed by what's in front of us. We've just become followers of trends, political momentum, thought change, professions, entertainment, and what not. Neither we as a nation create much original stuff and thinking on our own, nor do we allow many things to dictate us. We're happy with whatever our role models throw at us, but we don't encourage neophytes who show promise. So they, through struggle either become new heroes, or they perish under the double whammy. We're too afraid to try, because we're comfortable and content with the constricted reality we endure, we're too naive to let new ideas flourish, because of our shortsighted envisaging abilities. We're India's middle children, too privileged to have a direction and a future, and too unfortunate to ensure we set that direction and future right!  


Friday, 15 July 2016

The market of lies.

As economies expand and explode, new markets show up everyday. Markets for brands, ideologies, professions and what not. All markets, no matter how disparate they are, have this unique characteristic of being largely transactional. To say it the other way, brands, commodities or whatever it is, can often be replaced with a similar substitute without much hustle. Very few Coke fans would remain Coke fans if they were in a Coke drought for months and always had Pepsi around. Hence markets, no matter what's traded in them, are extremely dynamic, virulent and competitive. Now what if I tell you that after the tangible obvious market objects, comes a rather abstract set of entities that can also be traded? That entity is a lie! 

Oh yes! The market of lies is an old and an established one. Right form the Mayan prophecies which made a cabalistic truth stand on top of everything else and made a rotten community of profligate stay strong, to modern established religion, to industrialization, to capital markets, to augmented reality! Everything exists and promises a certain set of benefits in return for faithful unbridled, unquestioned preaching! So initial followers give it a try, and find the benefit of being the first cohort. Then more people follow suit, and more, and the chain goes on. It ceases finally only when no one checked for the veracity and the action of exchanging full loyalty with the supposed benefit is so well established that the question of questioning the worthiness of the exchange is altogether debilitated. 

Lies are in fact the most suitable candidate to be marketed, and despite our beyond all doubt Darwinian evolution bypassing human intelligence, we still allow all marketing communication appurtenant to lies to titillate us and sweep us off our feet! Why? Well, because lies are never marketed as they are. They're always, and almost infallibly, wrapped conveniently in a mesmerizing labyrinth of facts, events, happenings and incidents which all cover up the lie and give it a unique and a much more sanctified identity of its own!

Consider major wars! Looking back at WW2, it seems silly and moronic that a race suddenly considered itself far more imperial and suddenly felt the need to assert its right on supremacy of all forms. However, if you read Mein Kampf, you'll see how perfectly the harbinger of the war, Adolf Hitler, had wrapped the original agenda in a veil of purported tyranny and struggle, which justified emancipation by ripping off everyone who was not ostensibly exploited! 

Look at industrialization now. People prior to it had agriculture, no electricity, no hi-fi comm gear and nothing of what can be qualified as a 'life'. People were also struck by epidemics and one would be compelled to deem their lives miserable and filthy. But make no mistake, those people were far more happy! Why? It's simple! One, they were fewer in number so even with the limited resources, everyone just had about enough. Compare this with today when a handful have much more than the remaining 99%, and the remaining 99% have the sole and meager 1%. So we technically have more per head, but the distribution more than annihilates the advantage. 

It was all a lie. Wars, revolutions, capital markets, everything! Look beneath the many veneers, and you'd see the solemn truth. And very often, it's not the ones who work hard and wither under the hemorrhaging travails of masqueraded lies who win. It's the ones who seek the solemn truth and find it, who go on and win. It will seem pretty surprising but most of what we're told to do to appear ideal, is farcical. So why is it that despite the world becoming more transparent and more intellectually advanced, a handful of people still rule the roost? It's because the rulers know there should be only a limited number of rulers and they've upped their game to keep it that way. Lies have evolved.

A few years ago, multiple investment banks across the US created what later came to be known as Collateralized Debt Obligations(CDOs), which were a complex investment instrument tied to the repayment of loans at the US house markets. Despite the innate fallacies of the product, these products were deemed top grade by credit rating agencies either because they were fooled, or because they connived with the rulers. Later on more complex instruments CDSs(Credit Default Swaps) were invented to bet against the already complex CDOs. And that was the best example of the mired malarkey mentioned above. The instruments, despite the ridiculous perils associated, were even bought by state pension funds, thereby embroiling the hard earned pensioners' money. The lie hidden in all of it was that the US house market would crash. Everyone knew from the bottom of their hearts that most loans were bad with no securities, and yet everyone largely bet for the market's bullish future, until CDSs came in and changed the specifics. When markets crashed and multiple economies collapsed at once, everyone spoke that the downfall was obvious. Such, ladies and gentlemen, was the prowess of those who managed to market this lie. 

Consider a country torn in bits and pieces due to a dictatorial regime of a local demagogue. Now another country comes in and says we'll spend a lot of blood, we'll devastate all the infrastructure and we will then give you your country back with nothing left. So you think wow it'll be amazing to get the land back, and yet you miss on the fact that the country would not be what it was. Or consider an incumbent government raising taxes. The public goes on strike, there's massive hoopla and hubbub, and everyone goes crazy. A few days later. all rise is rolled back and suddenly everyone sings paeans of praise for the government, even though the government raised for a rollback. The welfare and egalitarianism of the outside country in first case and the govt in the second case is all a sham, but wonderfully packed in complex human perplexing mechanisms so impeccable that everyone misses the bus. 

As the world progresses and the reins move from administrative moguls to media, telecom and cyberspace moguls, the world will become an intricate network of populace ruled by extremely powerful rules who'd be in a position to hard press anything with an almost indomitable cover to break through. You're told to work hard so that you buy better houses, afford emis for the same, pay bills your whole life, have kids and die. The banality in that is obvious but the rulers have ensconced such fear and anxiety in us, that the mere thought of deviation from the set path bodes paroxysm. Lies become more and more complex to decipher, and as the world becomes more glorious in terms of materialism, the world becomes more sombre in terms of quality of life. At the end, remember how you wake up vis-a-vis a 2016 BC man. You wake up to see pictures of waterfalls on your cellphone screensaver and feel good. The other guy actually owned a couple of them! 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The confessions of a skilled lunatic.

Trust me when I tell you! It takes quite some doing to associate with yourself the title I've mentioned above. But post the grueling realization on how apt it is, you can't help but feel an eerie aplomb about it. I'm just another guy on the tenterhooks in the 21st century corporate scenario. Confused and clueless as I am about my future, I have a barrage of self-imposed confidence about my success that I genuinely didn't foster. And much to my surprise, even with my meager quiver of limited acumen on a handful of work related aspects, I'm often extolled as a young turk to watch out for. So I've largely lived my entire life equipping myself with more sharpened skills that would serve me better in what these people think would come of me. But of late I've come to notice some very strange but palpably obvious things about this entire fiefdom I now feel caught up in, and would like to share the same with you. 

All this time when I literally loved to study a few subjects and genuinely doted for those diagrams and schematics and precise descriptions of theories and principles in various books, I felt a sense of satisfaction that I'm finally gaining a piece of knowledge. One of our prime traits that make us human beings so superior, is our inexorable quest to never stop learning. And till the time I remained a student, from one institution to another, one grade beyond the lower rut, I just felt a mental elevation parallel to the allegorical one. I felt I'm moving up because I was building upon my knowledge and with every passing grade, I believed I am equipped with more sophisticated dexterity that is usually required at higher levels. So before stepping into the corporate folderol, that was quite a feeling to be initially solving case studies pertinent to an operations manager and then finally solving ones from the perspective of the CEO. It all seemed perfect till..

Till I finally joined the corporate world. As expected I was roped in at beginning levels and all I thought I had to do was to implement those entry level skills at work, learn more about the job, hone those skills with practical experience, and then just keep going and graduating one level up to move to the skills learned in the higher grade. But just a few days into the job I realized the innate fallacy in this. One, the teaching of stratified skills in your schools is not perfect. As you move to the higher skills, you concentrate so much on the fundamentals of the higher levels, that a very deep understanding of the basic levels is lost. I don't have a perfect analogy but consider a programmer who was trained initially on binary code, then assembly language and then he went on to the higher level programming instructions. Now he once knew the assembly language coding pretty well at college but he passed out knowing higher level programming with supreme confidence. 

His confidence was not dumbfounded. Everyone told him that most of the jobs need higher level programming skills so that was the right skill to acquire. And before you could know, you're in a software company, coding 9-5 on a high level programming language. Slowly and steadily you lose a grip of your fundamental skills of breaking down higher level instructions into assembly instructions, and assembly instructions into bits. After initial practice at the sophomore when you worked on high level programming, you initially did the conversions in a tedious and stultifying fashion but became good at it with time. Now, given that no one gives a damn about your conversion skills, you lose sight of what resides within what you do. And slowly and steadily, all your progress is linked to what you do and perform at a higher abstraction level. 

You earn well and you're promoted. So you learn more and more of that higher level programming language because you can now do more things on that higher abstraction level. And suddenly, all your erudition into seeing how things move at a basic level vanquish. In fact for the larger part of it you won't even recognize the presence of the lower layers - the cogs and sprockets. Your skill becomes detached from the fundamentals and while you're technically more skilled, your skills are narrowed down to a bare minimum. In fact to such a minimum, that now you entirely depend on your higher level programming language skills for existence and progress. So the language you coded on, now codes your life.

The above fallacy is hard to find but the analogy shows how more skills in the corporate world are tantamount to a depredation of your foundation skills. So while your actual skills, the ones that are actually needed to make something new and unique, like maybe a new programming language altogether, are made to vanish in the corporate culture. And all the while the success that comes with an emboldening of the higher level programming skills makes you narcissistic. So if tomorrow a young lad comes in and questions your higher level code by breaking it into bit levels, you'd knock him out because his volley was too hard for you to even comprehend. He'd be termed a ruffian and a misfit. And the culture that killed your real skills, now uses another you to kill skills of yet another young lad. And the vicious cycle continues. 

People sitting at the top of the corporate hierarchy run your life through pretenses and delusions. They know you don't merely work for any money, but you work for the ambition to improve. So they create a virtual ecosystem, a hacienda, where the narrow set of skills they want you to wholeheartedly work on, are made to appear so astounding that you feel like a god when you attain them. While in the real world, outside the corporate ecosystem, and in the realm of founders and innovators, those skills may hold no worth at all. So when I, a skilled professional realized my place in the scenario, I branded myself a lunatic. Because on one hand I'm able enough to see the sad and flagrant truth. But on the other hand, I can only feel mawkish about not being courageous enough to move out of a trap whose next layer is made out of this confession of mine!