July 28, 2006

Collarless at the club

So, you insist on wearing a collarless shirt, said my friend Mani who came to pick me up for an evening out during my recent Chennai visit. That was his way of telling me I sabotaged his plans for drinks & dinner at the Madras Gymkhana. The club insists on members and guests wearing shirt with a proper collar. And I had given it up years back, in favour of half-sleeved ‘kurtha’ that is a cross between ‘safari’ and T-shirt. My ‘khadi’ signature dress is exclusive; it is available only at Chennai’s Rayapetta branch of the Khadi Gram Udhyog Bhavan. The club and I appeared mutually exclusive when it came to the dress code.

I have been to Gymkhana a few times in the line of duty as a wining/dining media person. This was before I switched to ‘khadi’. And once, after. But then I had to borrow one of Mani’s shirts for the evening. This time I wasn’t in a shirt-borrowing mood. We ended up at GRT Grand.

A decade back, during my stint as Chennai correspondent of The Times of India, a PR-friend invited a few us to lunch at Madras Cricket Club, with a visiting executive of a multinational, an American. There were a dozen of us, and we all drove to the club together and filed into the bar that overlooks the Chepauk grounds. Moments after we settled at the bar, a club official walked up to our table and whispered something to the PR-man.

Clearly embarrassed, our PR friend let it be known that we were not welcome at the club bar, as one of us was wearing something without a collar. The club secretary, however, condescended to set up a table for us at the pavilion, adjacent to the club bar. Our American guest took it sportingly. My efforts to make some excuse for leaving the club, so that others could lunch in air-conditioned comfort, didn’t work.

As a gesture of solidarity the mighty media in Madras was prepared to have its chilled beer and chicken biriyani at Chepauk grounds pavilion on a sultry mid-summer afternoon. Speaking of the power of the media, here was a group, representing the media corps of Chennai, that got pushed around, because the club management insisted on upholding an archaic club code. We, the media, accepted it without as much as a murmur. I don’t suppose any of us wrote about it either.

July 12, 2006

Wanted: A new democratic order

My last blog entry - Caretakers of status quo - pertianed to the levels to which our babudom can stoop to stonewall an infrastructure project that doesn't happen to be their flavour of the month. When it comes to changing its mind our government appears to put in the shade even the most fickle-minded of the proverbial woman. Mr Kheny's expressway project has had its ups and downs (more downs than ups, Mr Kheny would say). And the pace of the project is stepped up or slowed down , depending on the stance of the ruling politics of the day.

Upshot of such push-pull pace of development isn't particularly fancied by business leaders, who believe that our politics is not conducive to attracting corporate investment in development projects. Compare FDI figures for China and India in recent years, and you get the drift of MNC mindset. Not long ago in Davos we took pride in putting out advertisements on public transport buses, conveying the message that India is the fastest-growing free-market democracy. It did little to alter anyone's perception that China grows faster; holds out more promise to foreign investers.

The World Economic Forum (W E F) is reported to have plans to hold regular summer summits in China. It is not as if India doesn't matter to them; it is just that China matters more. We are not the first choice for investors so long as China is in the race; we gain only if China slips. The thing, they say, that is wrong with us is our politics - " a messy democracy, producing shaky coalitions; five PMs in the last 15 years".

Accepting that we have no alternative to democracy, the question is: How do we make democracy work for our people, not just for politicians ?

July 8, 2006

Caretakers of status quo

No company CEO would want to be in Mr Ashok Kheny’s shoes right now. Not many companies, in fact, would want to do with business with Karnataka. Whatever the outcome of the govt.-Kheny tussle over the Mysore-Bangalore Expressway project, it’s not doing much good for the investment outlook in our state. The twists, u-turns and the roundabouts Mr Kheny of NICE has had to negotiate in the corridors of power wouldn't encourage project promoters to make a beeline to Karnataka.
Investor confidence in our govt. has not been very high for some time now. Our politicians and bureaucracy don’t give the impression of being pro-changers. If anything, they seem to act as if they are caretakers of status quo - ‘custodians of poverty’ is Mr Kheny’s preferred term to describe the Mysore officialdom.
Deputy commissioner, Mr Selvakumar, the highest district official, in his dealings with Mr Kheny and NICE, hasn’t come out as someone who acts with conviction. He directed the police to block work on the expressway from the Mysore end on the plea that MUDA had yet to get some Rs.84 lakhs as acquisition dues for nearly 15 acres KIADB (industrial area dev. Board) had acquired to be handed over to NICE. Mr Kheny who claims NICE has already cleared the dues wondered why his work on the project was being blocked, that too, with an unseemly show of police force.
The deputy commissioner, who is also MUDA chair, may justify his stand on a technicality, with transactions between government agencies being usually a matter of book adjustment . Question is: does a lapse on the part of KIADB warrant a forcible hold-up of work on the expressway, particularly when its executing agency is not at fault? It is not as if the govt. hasn’t allowed earlier any project implementation, pending compliance of a transaction between two govt. agencies. When Mr Kheny wanted a letter stating reasons for the hold-up the DC suggested Mr Kheny to approach KIADB. The DC may well have been bureaucratically correct. Some may call it buck-passing. Upshot is such conduct doesn't further our image of being investor-friendly.

July 7, 2006

I’ve “pet-lag”, jetlag of the soul

Photo: A fruit-sauce friendly face.

I blog to brag . And grandson Siddarth is my particular weakness. Whatever our six-month old friend does is a source of unceasing wonder for us, my wife and me. We often join him in contriving clownish antics and make funny noises to make Siddarth break into his toothless signature smile. At times, I see him smirking, and wonder if he senses how much of an ass we make of ourselves to humor the guy. Like all other grandparents we felt a lump in the throat when we had to leave for Mysore. It has been a week since our return, and I still have ‘pet-lag’ (jetlag of the soul), for having left behind Siddarth in San Ramon, CA.

It was in such frame of mind I browsed http://www.nripulse.com/ , only to discover that Siddarth has been featured ‘Baby of the Month’. Every month this web mag. chooses a baby out of the many entries they receive from young parents. I had bunged in Siddarth’s entry, on behalf of his parents, way back in May. I had almost forgotten about it.
BoM feature carries a brief note on the likes, dislikes and skills of the chosen baby.
Siddarth likes watching Tamil flicks (grandma’s choice) on TV; loathes a whistling pressure cooker. He is skilled enough to put his grandma to sleep whenever she lullabies him, seated in a rocking chair.

July 4, 2006

Bravo, Minister Horatti

A school kid who can’t or wouldn’t declare his/her caste affiliation can fill in ‘Indian’ on the relevant dotted line, in the school admission form. Karnataka primary education minister, Mr Basavaraj Horatti is reported to have so announced in the state legislature. Let’s pray the minister sticks to his stand. He would have brought more cheer had he used the word ‘human’, instead of ‘Indian’, a term which in its commonly accepted sense, refers to nationality rather than caste. To be a human is to belong to one of the two universal castes, the other one being the caste of war-mongers.

In a sense, the minister’s choice of word is apt in our national context. For the word ‘Indian’ denotes a sense of solidarity that cuts across the regional and linguistic divides. Mr Horatti, however, made the statement in the context of nine Mysore school children who were denied transfer certificates because they had not mentioned their caste in their application for TC.

If the media has got the minister right, Mr Horatti is quoted as saying, “Any child not willing to or who cannot divulge his caste can, simply, write ‘indian’” (Deccan Herald, July 5). The statement opens out refreshing possibilities. Public spirited parents with pre-school children can now test the govt. intention, and break out of the castes-line by declaring their children’s caste as , simply, ‘Indian’, at the time of school admission.
Such concerted move would hold out a semblance of hope for India to become a casteless society in the generation after next. I use the term - semblance of hope - because a majority of us have a vested interest in highlighting our caste affiliation under the quota system. In the ultimate analysis we can become truly casteless only when the quota system goes away, and the caste clause is scrapped from all official forms, altogether.

July 2, 2006

Back in Mysore, to dead phone, un-ticking clocks

My phone had gone dead; the TV remote wasn’t working. I couldn’t access the Internet. And two of the three wall clocks at my place had stopped ticking. In short, my urban middle-class ‘life-support’ system was down. I realized I was back in Mysore, having been away for three months. Such things could happen anywhere, to anyone who has been gone for that long. My point is about getting things that had gone wrong back in running condition, without hassles. The time and effort it takes to get things done depends on where you live - Milpitas (Calif.), Mysore or outer Mongolia.

My scene is Mysore. Prof. Raghavan, my friend at a local b-school, would like to see Mysore become a dependable place for those who demand a certain quality in life, and promptness in service. As he put it, this town, which was My-sore (point) should be turned into ‘My-sure’(thing). As of now, it is a town where one can’t be sure of getting anything done right away or without hassle. The BSNL phone at my residence was dead. It took three phone calls to officials in strategic positions to get it ringing, this, within the same working day. A creditable performance in customer service for a public sector undertaking.

My problem is with the private sector that tom-toms about its customer-friendliness . I called the show-room that had sold me the TV to send a technician to fix my remote or have it replaced. The person who attended my call gave a patient hearing, assured me he would get the company’s service centre to attend to my TV remote before the end of the day (Saturday). When I didn’t hear from anyone for some hours I called the TV show-room again, only to be connected to someone else, who was polite, but wanted me to tell him about the faulty TV remote, all over again.

Mildly irritated, I mentioned that I had been through it all with so-and-so earlier in the day. “We have no such person here”, he said. This, I thought, was a bit thick. I had called the right show-room number; and spoken to a receptive person who heard me out, took down my phone number, and even wanted to know when it would be a convenient time for me to have the TV technician home. After all this, this show-room person, the second one I spoke to, wanted me to tell him what my complaint was about. He had no word of regret for what I (a ‘valued customer’) had been put through. And then, he said in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’d pass on your complaint to the company service centre, and they would attend to it Monday”.

When I mentioned that I had been given to understand my TV remote would be fixed the same day (I wanted to watch Germany-Argentina World Cup tie) the show-room guy talked me through their standard operating procedure. Which was, the service centre could not (or wouldn't) attend to any customer complaint on the very day it was reported. Besides, my complaint was made on a Saturday. So nothing could be expected to happen till Monday. So much for the customer-friendly (after sales) service centre.