Author: vijayraju

16Nov
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Demonetization: Why we need to take some pain to rebuild our nation

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The Prime Minister’s recent announcement to demonetise higher value notes overnight has created a frenzy in India. The government has given 50 days to the people to exchange their currency and the last few days have seen serpentine queues at banks and ATMs. While the move has created a lot of excitement among a large section of the people, it has also caused inconveniences to many others, especially the elderly and those who belong to lower income groups.

For people who are feeling inconvenienced, I empathise with you, even if I do not experience the extent of your trouble. It is important for the governments to ensure that the barriers to participation are low and that people understand the vision. But, ultimately, is this a good decision or not? In my opinion, while it is a tough decision, it is a good one.

 Those who say this is a bad decision give the following reasons: 1. The bigwigs who hold the black money would have already been informed by the highest sources. 2. People who don’t have bank accounts will suffer. 3. People have invested their black money in assets such as gold, land etc.

Each one of these reasons is loaded with so many assumptions. Even if this decision is a bad one, we will know only in hindsight and not right now, so close to its launch. So, why not let the government try something new? Even if it fails, we would have learned something new instead of maintaining the status quo.

Another question worth asking is this: Are we ready to endure some inconvenience in the interest of the nation? I am surprised that the answer is “no” in many cases. This is largely due to a reactionary, short-term mindset.

Countries don’t develop overnight. I have seen from childhood how governments have given freebies and made people lazy.

Countries don’t develop overnight. I have seen from childhood how governments have given freebies and made people lazy. I come from a state in India where every household was given a free TV and people happily took it. Governments, for long, have disempowered people so that they do not ask questions — one way to keep citizens happy is to employ dubious measures, such as giving them caste-based privileges and distributing freebies. This way, vote-banks are kept safe.

In Switzerland, people recently rejected a referendum where the government wanted to give every citizen 2,500 Swiss francs as a living allowance. It shows the character of the people. In all developed countries, people work a little harder in the form of following the rules, keeping their surroundings clean etc; they take some pain for their country. Development needs to happen in the mind before it manifests in the physical world. In our country, it works in the opposite way — physical assets are built in the form of airports, malls, highways and people still behave in the same old fashion.

It is high time that our leaders start helping people to take pain for their country. I was very impressed with the odd-even scheme launched by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal earlier this year. More than the scheme, his ability to do the right thing against all odds was what impressed me. It made people take some individual pain so that they could reduce their collective pain. Most citizens also responded positively, which is commendable.

Since independence, we have all focused on ourselves and abused our nation as much as possible. Our rivers are dirty (when they are not empty), our roads are dirty, our cities are full of pollution — we are pursuing a selfish path, while forgetting our society and country. When my Japanese friend visited my home in Madurai 10 years back, he was shocked to see that our house was so clean. I asked him what was surprising about the house being clean. He said, “On my way to your home from the station, it was so dirty and I expected your house also to be very dirty.” It was an eye-opener for me.

Our politicians are getting better and it is we the people who need to get better now. It is heartening to see that leaders like Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal are pushing the boundaries through their entrepreneurial approaches. They are willing to fail and learn in a complex world where everything is criticised. For long, our people have engaged only from the galleries — and in the world of technology, we have even more sophisticated tools like Facebook to enable us to be active onlookers without feeling any pain. When soldiers are dying on the battlefield, we spread hate messages on social media, thus increasing the risk for them even further.

Our country people used non-violence even when they were beaten in their quest to achieve freedom. Our ability to take pain is better than any other nation’s. It is time we take some pain and some responsibility towards nation-building.

This post was originally published in Huffington Post India: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijay-raju/demonetisation-why-we-need-to-take-some-pain-to-rebuild-our-nat/

Image Credits: Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) via Huffington Post India

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6Oct
image

To achieve gender equality, build more toilets

 

Serena Williams, one the greatest tennis players of our time, said she thinks a priority for women’s tennis should be closing the pay gap that still exists at non-major tournaments (the Grand Slam events hand out equal prize money). “There is a huge pay difference in terms of male and female athletes in lots of sports,” Williams said. “Still so in tennis a little bit, as well. … It’s just taking one step at a time.”. The Global Shapers Annual Survey 2016 also validated this sentiment as more than 60% of millennials all over the world voted equal pay as the most important factor that will contribute to gender equality in the work place.

When we talk about gender equality, the conversation naturally steers towards the work place and how women should be getting equal pay as men. This is very important but gender equality goes well beyond the work place.

I was recently reflecting on my childhood in South India. We would go on occasional trips to the nearest town, Madurai, which is 12km from the university campus where we lived. After dusk, whenever the vehicle crossed between villages, I used to notice a group of women standing by the side of the road. The driver used to dim the lights and whenever I asked why these women were standing, the elders used to go quiet.

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It took several years for me to understand that these women defecate in the open, especially by the road side. As a child, I used to get angry that these people were behaving so irresponsibly in public. It took some time to realize that it is not safe for them to do so anywhere else because of the snakes and other dangerous animals that are so common in the area. By using the side of the road, they were ensuring a certain level of safety, even though it was actually not very safe.

When I think about this now, I am stunned by the hardship women have to face to even meet a basic human need. They have to either get up early or wait until evening so they can hide in the open and defecate. This isn’t a problem for men, who are more mobile because of their jobs. Women, meanwhile, have to deal with social stigma and risk their lives by unlit roadsides. The problem has become so bad that they often go in groups to protect themselves.

These women aren’t looking for any special privilege; all they want is to be able to lead a respectable and safe daily life, like the men in their society. Design thinking talks about empathy and stepping into the shoes of the other people. Can we all imagine what it would be to step into the shoes of these women?

To make things worse, the threat to women doesn’t just come from snakes, scorpions and other wildlife. Now, sexual assault and rape has also become a major problem. Rape is a growing threat in India women are often at their most vulnerable when they leave their home to answer nature’s call. Two girls, 14 and 15, were found gang raped and hanged after they went to relieve themselves in the dark in the state of Uttar Pradesh in 2014, an event that caused outrage across India. While cities have improved since then, the villages are still living with this problem.

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, launched Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, a cleanliness campaign to help the 636 million Indians who didn’t have access to toilets when he came to power in 2014. His government allotted more than $1 billion and is relentlessly driving his government to build toilets for every household by 2019. Before coming to power, he had famously said: “Let’s build toilets first and then temples”, which is important in a country that has more mobile phones than toilets.

So far, the government has built 24 million toilets, according to the Prime Minister on his radio show. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu, recently tweeted that Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are the first to end open defecation in urban areas in their respective states. He also tweeted that he aims to make all rural areas, including every village, as open defecation free by 2019. These are commendable initiatives to create a gender equal society.

Equal pay and equal jobs are of course important, but there are millions of women who cannot meet their basic human needs. By focusing only on the workplace, we often forget these important contexts. Let’s ensure that millions of underprivileged women get these basic human rights so that they can lead healthy and normal lives.

For those women, it is a basic right. For the rest of us, it is our duty.

You can also read this post in WEF Agenda: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/to-achieve-gender-equality-build-more-toilets

Image credits: Reuters/Stringer

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14Sep
ecosystem

Can Drones be the Krishna to protect women in India?

Clayton Christensen, the leading management thinker, beautifully connected the role of religion with democracy recently. He argued that the reason why democracy works is because most of the people choose to obey law most of the time and that religion has played an important role in inculcating values as well as the fear that someone is watching from above. But many men in India don’t seem to have the fear. A country that has a rich cultural heritage and that practiced some of the highest social virtues like non-violence is presenting a different kind of image through the increasing rape incidents in recent years.

The horrific rape and murder of a young woman in Kerala is the latest among the many violent, sexual crimes against women in recent years in India. As I was writing this post, I saw a news article where a 23 year old Belgian woman was molested by a radio taxi driver in Delhi. In 2014, two girls were brutally raped and were found hanging in a tree in a village in the Badaun District of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. This rape is not a one-off incident in India – On the night of 16 December 2012, a 23 year old paramedic was brutally assaulted and gang raped by six men in a moving bus in South Delhi and thrown out of the vehicle with her male friend. She later died in a Singapore hospital after two weeks. The incident sparked nationwide protests and had been widely covered in the international media as well. It has even extended to children getting raped – a 5 year old girl was raped in Delhi and several such incidents involving children were in the news over the last few years.

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India dramatically tightened its laws on sexual crimes with a package of tough measures, after the gruesome 2012 incident, that imposed much stricter penalties for a range of crimes with one of the most significant adjustments to its laws protecting women. However, these tough measures haven’t really brought down the rape crimes in India. A US report on human right violations released in 2015 cites rape as the fastest growing crime in India. The data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that there is a 200% increase in rapes over the last decade and also, shows a 35% marked increase in rape incidents after 2012 which infers that there is either a mockery of the so called tough measures since 2012 or that the new laws have enabled more people to come and report these issues more than ever before.

Even the above data doesn’t present the actual reality on the ground as the number of cases reported is far less than the actual numbers. Because of social stigma and various other social reasons, it is believed that 1 in 100 cases actually get reported. Of course, a systematic study is required and we need to encourage initiatives like ‘I break my silence’ organized by the Chandigarh Hub of the Global Shapers Community that educate school girls to come and speak about sexual crimes openly. A holistic approach is required to end gender based violence which includes educating kids from school, tightening laws, increasing policing, making women speak about crimes, providing proper psychological counselling for rape victims etc. but we need something to protect women before these crimes happen.

At a time, when the government led by PM Narendra Modi, is leaving no stone unturned to build Brand India and attract investors through initiatives like Make in India, Swachh Bharat, Rural electrification etc., this problem is the one that grabs the headlines in global media but this problem which hasn’t been given sufficient attention it deserves. It is not only a central government issue as several state governments do their best to attract investors to develop their state and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu is one of those CMs who are very actively pursuing opportunities to develop their respective states.

In India, a country of 1.2 billion people, neither is there enough police to ensure law adherence in every corner of the country nor is a strong fear that used to exist in the minds of the people that someone is watching from above. It reminds of a famous scene from the great Indian epic, Mahabharata which is described in the exhibit.

Exhibit:

“Below is an extract from an important chapter in Mahabharata, the famous Indian epic, in the version written by Rajaji .`The Pandavas lost everything including their wife Draupadi to their rivals Kauravas in a game of dice. From the Kauravas, Duhsasana made ready to seize Draupadi’s clothes by force. All earthly aid had failed, and in the anguish of utter helplessness, she implored divine mercy and succour: 

“O Lord of the World,” she wailed, “God whom I adore and trust, abandon me not in this dire plight. You are my sole refuge. Protect me.” And she fainted away. Then,  as the wicked Duhsasana started his shameful work of pulling at Panchali’s robes, and good men shuddered and averted their eyes, even then, in the mercy of God a miracle occurred.

 In vain, Duhsasana toiled to strip off her garments, for as he pulled off each, ever fresh garments were seen to clothe her body, and soon a great heap of resplendent clothes was piled up before the assembly till Duhsasana desisted and sat down in sheer fatigue. The assembly trembled at this marvel and good men praised God Krishna who saved Draupadi and wept.”

 The exhibit on the Indian epic Mahabharata highlights the need for a figure like Krishna to protect our women. Could technology be our Krishna? God is anywhere and everywhere; Wireless signals are anywhere and everywhere. A few emerging technologies like the Drone cameras combined with the power of wireless technologies give hope that they could be the Krishna who can show up whenever there is a crime against women and also, instill the fear that someone is watching from above.

 Never before has all the technology elements required to solve this problem has been so optimally aligned. Mobile phone and internet penetration are at an all-time high. Smart phone penetration is at an all-time high even in developing countries, thanks to disruptors, who have innovated to bring the cost down. Imaging capabilities have improved significantly even in the mobile phones and the emergence of drone cameras are a testimony to advancements in this space. Another crucial advancement is the compactness of the devices thanks to the telecom industry and the interaction between different devices. With a drone’s eye and bird like movement, a Drone has a camera’ eye’, a bird’s ‘movement’, a mobile controlled ‘awareness’ and a wireless presence, technology could indeed be the Krishna.

 With amazing advancements in technology, the drones are becoming smaller in size, cheaper in cost, and ease of use. The telecom industry has helped in a big way through their innovations in form and size that led to the drone manufacturers effectively leveraging this for their own needs.  Also, open source programs have also reduced the cost of running the auto pilot software which was previously provided by the aviation industry at a high cost. Drones are already successfully used in a variety of ways in several industries and there are several highly ambitious initiatives that are in R & D phase.

Agriculture:  Relatively cheap drones with advanced sensors and camera imaging capabilities are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage by exposing everything from irrigation problems to soil variation and even pest and fungal infestations that aren’t apparent at eye level. Second, airborne cameras can take multispectral images, to create a view of the crop that highlights differences between healthy and distressed plants in a way that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Finally, a drone can survey a crop every week, every day, or even every hour, combined to create a time-series animation, that imagery can show changes in the crop, revealing trouble spots or opportunities for better crop management.

Logistics: Amazon is experimenting with Prime Air — a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones. Prime Air has great potential to enhance the services we already provide to millions of customers by providing rapid parcel delivery that will also increase the overall safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

Healthcare: In Rwanda, a startup called Zipline will use a fleet of long-distance drones to airdrop precious blood and medicines to remote medical facilities across Rwanda. Zipline is working with the Rwandan government to create a network of delivery drones that will ferry medical supplies across the country. The network will be capable of making 50 to 150 deliveries per day, using a fleet of 15 aircraft, each with twin electric motors and an almost eight-foot wingspan. The unmanned planes will use GPS to navigate, and will airdrop supplies before returning to the landing strip from which they launched.

Film Industry: In the movie industry, drones do an exceptional job in capturing aerial shots and even crane shots at a very reasonable cost. Even Indian films are using Drone cameras to film some of their complex action sequences. One of the recent examples is the train stunt sequence in the Ajith starrer, Veeram, a Tamil Movie. The scene was praised by critics for the quality of the cinematography and the suspense it created in the minds of the audience.

A recent product innovation called Nixie, a wearable drone camera that can fly gives a new interesting possibility to tackle the problem. Nixie is a small camera you wear like a watch, but with straps that unfold, turning it into a flying quadcopter. Nixie will then launch skywards from your wrist, where its swivelling camera can shoot video of you from the air. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfzqUsGMHE0

It offers several functionalities: In boomerang mode it will automatically return to you after shooting your video. In “follow me” mode it will follow you as you move around, creating a hands-free video of your exploits. In “Panorama mode” takes aerial photos in a 360° arc. “Hover mode” gives any filmmaker easy access to impromptu jib shots.

While these functionalities are very helpful to amateur athletes and adventure sports lovers, these functionalities could also help to address the biggest pain points of tourists when they travel to cities where there is a high level of gender based crimes. This could be applied for other stakeholders like working women and even children going to school.

Nixie and similar drone cameras seem to be the Krishna that we are desperately looking for all these years.

A smart ecosystem like the one below could be created by orchestrating a network of stakeholders who are connected to each other through a central platform which is connected to the end-user who is equipped with a smartphone and Nixie wearable drone.

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How does the eco-system look like?

Multi-Lingual Call Center: A multi lingual call-center will be the heart of the eco-system and will serve as a platform that connects the end user with the various actors who play the role of preventing crimes on the ground and protecting the victim after a crime had happened. The call-center will serve the following roles:

  • Information Exchange: Tourists get into trouble as they talk to strangers on the road for simple information like location of a tourist spot, restaurant etc or inside hotels.
  • Tourist Guide: The call center could be equipped with good information about a tourist spot so that tourists can reach out to the call enter who can serve them like an audio guide and in turn, help tourists to avoid talking to criminals, who disguise themselves as guides in some cases.
  • Virtual Security: With the ‘Follow me’ mode, the call center may be able to scan the surroundings for potential warning signs in the vicinity and the drone can make a loud alarm sound in case of an emergency.

 Authorized tourist guides, ex- defence servicemen along with multi-lingual graduates from schools like CEIFL, Hyderabad and JNU, Delhi could be considered to work in the call center.For the translation, a new technologycalled Pilot is emerging which allows two people to wear ear pieces and speak in a language that will be translated on both sides but it is still early in the evolution but could be a worthwhile addition in the future.

 Security Network: A security network can be formed that can immediately rush to the venue in case, if there was a perceived danger indicated by the end user to the call user. Even though it is not practical to expect to have policeman cover every square kilometer of the city, it is very important to find creative ways to increase the security footprint across a city. This could be achieved through the following stakeholders –

  • A Rapid Action Police team: It is important to still create a Rapid Action Police (RAP) team along with a control center since the police are the best trained to deal with crime related emergencies
  • NCC Action team: A NCC Action Team (NAT) of NCC volunteers from colleges in a city could be assembled and trained. These teams could be provided a motor bike to rush to the emergency spot and we need to think through the policy changes required to ensure that these volunteers are sufficiently armed if they encounter violent gangs.
  • Network of ex-servicemen and Auto Drivers: Another important group who can be part of the security network are the ex-servicemen who can be paired up with a local auto rickshaw driver and these teams can be spread across the city. The ex-service men are well trained in the armed services and their experience plus judgment could prove to be quite handy.

With the rise of platform models like Uber, Airbnb, Ola Cabs and Oyo rooms, it is possible to learn best practices on hiring, training, retaining, certifying, monitoring and managing a network with these various actors.

Is it commercially Viable?

India attracted 8.07 million tourists and Delhi airport had a 27.6% share of all tourist arrivals in India which is approx. 2 million tourists.

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With the growing tourism market across the country and also, the growing need for similar services for working women, kids and domestic tourists, this could be an interesting opportunity for public – private partnerships. Neither government alone nor private sector alone can create it on their own because of the complexities invoved and it requires the best of both public and private sectors.

Of course, for any new service, there are going to be huge technological hurdles along with policy & regulation challenges. Battery life of a smart phone and network coverage on the outskirts of a city  important are challenges that need to be sorted out.

Policy & Regulations are probably the next big hurdle in building an eco-system like the one described above. There are several challenges and a few of them are highlighted below

  1. Ensuring that the volunteers are provided arms training and also, ensuring that the volunteers have the same coverage like police & military in case of the death of a criminal or harasser during the relief operation
  2. Flying drones is banned as it poses serious security threats and hence, ensuring that it adheres to the security policy guidelines of the government is critical.
  3. Because of the privacy concerns caused by the filming, strong guidelines need to be in place to ensure that the images are captured, stored and processed in an extremely responsible manner in order not to violate any individual’s privacy
  4. In UK, the Telegraph reported that the number of near misses involving aircraft and drones has quadrupled in the past year. Ensuring that the airspace regulations are honoured is critical.

“Public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people’s appetite to fly them. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back,” said House of Lords UK Committee Chairman Baroness O’Cathain in Mar 2015.  There may be many more issues that we need to consider before finding the optimal policy levels but doing something is better is better than doing nothing. Also, there is no guarantee that even with the best co-ordination, a crime could happen and ensuring that there is understanding that this is not a 100% guaranteed solution is critical.

While strict regulations, safety concerns, and technical challenges make this drone enabled eco-system seem far-fetched at the moment, innovations like this through a public private partnerships could provide the much needed breakthrough for India to tackle this problem and put a strong footing in their growth story.

A drone enabled smart ecosystem could be the Krishna that women in India may be desperately looking for to protect them and remain independent.

Author:

Vijay Raju is the Deputy Head of the Global Shapers Community at the World Economic Forum. Vijay won a Mobile Monday (MoMo) elevator pitch contest in 2008 in Tokyo, Japan on the same topic when he was doing his MBA in Japan and his MBA thesis was also written on this topic. With the emergence of drone technologies, the possibilities are becoming endless and Vijay hopes that this article will inspire the emergence of a model that will put an end to the sexual violence that is inflicted on women in India.

Author Contacts: @vgthinks, vj.raju@hotmail.com,  www.vijayraju.com

 The views expressed are those of the author and does not represent the views of his employer

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6May
csm_Big_Dhamma_Hall_0aea171342

Is Meditation an escape route?

I have been trying to learn meditation for a long time.I have tried so many techniques but could never understand why I have to focus on breath or focus on sensations. Whenever I asked someone to explain me ‘What is meditation’,I usually got answers for the question ‘What are the benefits of meditation?’. People talk about increased concentration, focus and less stress. I could get these benefits playing with my kids or actively pursuing a sport etc and so, these explanations were not convincing.

My father taught Yoga to us when we were very young and he has been religiously practicing it till today for 2 hrs daily for the last 30 years along with meditation. My father, in spite of being in government service in India, worked hard including weekends. But my mother, a housewife, worked harder than my father in every aspect and she worked 24x7x365 for 16 hours a day. Being the first person to wake up and the last person to go to bed, she dedicated her life to serve her husband and 3 boys.But she never did meditation or yoga or any of these things that help people to relax. Her relaxation was in her work.  Her relaxation happened during the day when she was still working.She is mentally very strong, never complained about anything, never scared of anyone and is brutally honest.

At one point, I started questioning whether meditation is an escape route for people like my father and I even asked this question to a Senior Executive,who came in as a guest speaker, when he recommended the Global Leadership Fellows to meditate regularly.

I recently completed a Vipassana Meditation course through Dhamma Sumeru in Switzerland. I learned about Vipassana through a book called ‘Holycow’ and have been wanting to do it just for the experience. My wife, who never likes when I travel for work, surprised me when she asked me to apply for the course in Switzerland. Vipassana meditation involves 10 days of noble silence where one cannot talk, use a phone, read or write and even make eye contact with fellow students. Below is the course schedule and how a day looks like during the course

This course and the teacher, the late SN Goenka-ji answered every question I had about meditation and that too in a convincing and scientific fashion.What was challenging is the posture – cross legged in Indian style — and meditating for approximately 10 – 11 hrs every day. Even for an Indian guy like me who is used to sitting cross legged at school and home growing up in India, it was quite difficult for the first 2-3 days.I was amazed by all my western batch mates who might have never sat cross legged in their lives, in spite of the pain and discomfort, were fully committed and went through the ordeal during the 10 days.

The food, accommodation and the course is completely free.On the second day, I went to take a quick nap but the thought that someone has donated to cover all these expenses made me to jump out of bed and get back to work, meditation. I understood the power of ‘free’ provided the space and the context are so compelling.

Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.It sounds simple but it is extremely hard as our lenses are conditioned by our beliefs, assumptions and mental models. Freeing ourselves from this conditioning through silent observation of the body-mind construct and moving step by step from focusing on the breath to focusing on the sensations in the framework of the body moves one closer to seeing the reality.

My understanding of meditation – It is a process of developing harmony between mind and body to stay in equanimity in spite of the vicissitudes of life. Equanimity is the middle path between aversion and craving. We all crave for tasty food, experiences,material possessions etc and we are averse to negative experiences in life. An equanimous mind can be developed through good inputs to the body and mind (balanced food, exercise and nourishing thoughts) and constantly, connecting to the human construct through meditation.

Meditation is not an escape route but rather it forces one to commit deeply to the approach and detach oneself from the outcomes.It is about staying committed and staying detached which is in a way an important leadership quality. It shifted my orientation from rights to duty and how to move myself from always trying to be in the ‘center of things’ happening in my life.

I have been able to practice regularly after my return and am really enjoying the discipline,intensity and detachment.I have given up eggs and became a full vegetarian. My intake has reduced, my observation of my self has improved and I am doing my duty to the best of my abilities without expectations.This is one of the best gifts I got in my life and I am grateful to my wife for giving me this gift. I am grateful to the organizers who selflessly serve and offer this 10 day course along with the accommodation and food for free.

I strongly recommend this course to everyone and may all beings be happy. To learn more, Please check the following link: https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana

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30Mar
Books HD

My TOP 10 books: Give yourself the reading habit as a gift

I have seen many TOP 10 lists and I always expected an explanation. This is my TOP 10 with my own explanation and it need not be your top 10. I have to thank my mentor, Suresh Lakshman, who instilled the habit of reading in me when we were colleagues in an Animation studio in Mumbai a decade ago. I remember the ‘Erroneous Zones’ and ‘Talking Straight’ books that he forced me to read which set me off in my reading journey. I don’t really like the idea of ‘owning’ anything but my book shelf is my most prized possession. I also like the smell of the books and do not enjoy reading books in gadgets. Reading is the best gift you can give to yourself and to others. Suresh gave me this gift and this is my gift to each one of you so that you can start this wonderful reading habit.

My Top 10 Books

1. My experiments with truth by MK Gandhi: This is the first book I read in my life. Non-violence can come only out of his pursuit of truth and I have always wondered how a man can share some of his darkest sides in such an open manner. Gandhi is the greatest innovator the world has ever seen and the title ‘Mahatma’ (Maha-Atma) is just so apt for him.

2. Freedom from the Known by J Krishnamurti: I learned how to think from JK by reading his books and watching his videos. Every sentence from him is a quote – ‘The observer is the observed’, ‘Truth is a pathless land’ to name a few and all my thinking plus structure is heavily influenced by him. He was the one who inspired Bruce Lee to dismiss his own technique and proclaim ‘No way as the way’.

3. The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda: This book came to me and I still don’t know how it came to me. After I finished reading this book, I wondered what the author had actually done as the whole book is about his gurus and the greatness of others. Later, I realized that there was no ‘I’ in this book. The author is the man who took yoga to the west and this book is a personal favourite of Steve Jobs.

4. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho: I experienced this book in my life when I went to do my MBA in Japan. The universe conspired to help me realize my dreams in the face of extremely difficult circumstances and I am thankful to Paolo for this enlightening work. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who is facing uncertainty with their dreams and goals.

5. Innovator’s Dilemma/Solution by Clayton Christensen: The best business book I have ever read. I saw disruptive innovation as not just a business concept but also a philosophy for life. I read and experienced this book. It is one of the few books that work on a paradox and also, it never blames managers for failures which is also unique in the business world. I have met him personally and he is GOD in human form.

6. Ramayana by Rajaji: I have not read Shakespeare or any of the English authors in his league but Rajaji’s writing is my benchmark. This book has words that can be used in only certain contexts and I marvelled at his usage of words while relying on a dictionary to understand the words . I believe in this story and the legend of Rama thanks to this beautiful storytelling by Rajaji.

7. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs is an inspiration in many ways and I relate to him in the same way as I relate to Gandhi. He pursued truth and this book is such a compelling narrative of his life with all its bright and dark sides. It is a 600+ page book and I completed this book in less than a day as I couldn’t put the book down as it was so engrossing.

8. On Dialogue by David Bohm: This is a book on philosophy and this book elevated my thinking in many ways. David Bohm is a famous physicist and his conversations with my guruji, J Krishnamurti represent thinking of the highest kind. One of the chapters is ‘The observer is the observed’, the famous quote by J Krishnamurti and if there is something called bird’s eye view, it will take you to the max possible view.

9. Made in Japan by Akio Morita: I read this book after reading Lee Iacocca’s Talking Straight. I still don’t understand what was so great about Lee Iacocca’s work. Akio Morita led his people through thick and thin to create a world famous brand called SONY. His ability to understand consumers’ needs and his ability to transform his ideas into great products is the foundation for all the innovators all over the world.

10. Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto: Barbara was a former management consultant at McKinsey who went on to teach McKinsey consultants on how to present their ideas in a structured fashion. When I was in consulting, I was told that my PPT and presentation skills were not up to the mark. This book helped me a great deal and it is a matter of just understanding what constitutes structure.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the 100s of authors who inspired me, most notably, Wayne Dyer and Robin Sharma, who helped me to take the baby steps when I started my reading journey. Thank you!

Presently, I am reading 3 books – Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda, A bunch of thoughts by MS Golwalkar (to learn about an ideological stance that I could never relate to) and The Art of Possibilities by Rosamund Zander.

My father is the author of 3 books in Tamil and my goal is to publish my first book in the next 12 months.

 

Image Credits: www.wired.com

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29Mar
Kids

When will our kids walk to school again?

Recently, I ran a mini-survey with my friends in South Asia asking what a 24-hour day looked like for their children.

SynthesisAs you can see, the child literally has no time to be just ‘free’. The parents tell them when they have to get up, when they have to sleep, when they have to watch TV, when they have to play and so on and so forth.

As someone who grew up in India in the 80s and that too in a small city, the difference from my own childhood is glaring. There are massive airports, high-quality roads, malls and shopping complexes, more cars, more two wheelers. However, some of the side effects of this rapid urbanisation are far from pleasant: massive pollution in our cities, less safety for our children, a paucity of clean water and public spaces.

When I grew up, I used to roam around freely with my friends in the entire neighbourhood. On holidays, we used to play cricket from dawn to dusk far away from our houses. During summer vacations, we never thought of books. We just played, played and played some more. My mother used to send us to grocery shops frequently and we used to drink water from the well in the house. There were few cars on the roads, not many gadgets, three hours of state-run TV. Yet, we had the basics and they came for free: clean water, clean air and lots of freedom.

I compare this with the life my kids had in Bangalore. We lived in a premium apartment complex and it had all the amenities. We had lots of gadgets, a car, computer games, TV, DVD player, movies, games at malls so on and so forth. But my kids could never be sent alone to the grocery shop nearby, they could never go out of the gated community, they could not mingle with other kids from different backgrounds and most importantly, they could not breathe clean air or drink clean water outside. The most basic things are so expensive to get — we had to travel outside Bangalore or stay indoors to breathe clean air.

Today, we are living in Geneva. And guess what, the life my children are experiencing in Geneva, is more similar to my childhood in Madurai than the life they lived in Bangalore. I made the below comparison between our lifestyles and, to me, Madurai life in 1980 and Geneva life in 2015 are very similar.
Mdu - BGLR - GenevaIt is the Bangalore life that is out of place, imposed by adults on kids. Our cities neither provide the inspiration for kids to unleash their creativity nor bring out the curiosity they need to make them lifelong learners. So many kids complain about boredom when they are below 10. There is less physical activity and more time is spent with gadgets. The costs of not addressing this issue are going to be enormous in the future — socially, politically and economically.

A scene from the award-winning Tamil film Kaaka Muttai, where a kid from a wealthy gated community interacts with the two slum children aptly illustrates the state of affair today. The fence between the two groups of kids depicts the sharp contrast between the two different socioeconomic groups.
KMKids from wealthier communities live in a world rigidly organised by adults and can’t play or socialize ‘freely’ with their peers. Kids from low-income communities enjoy lot of freedom but face violence and extremely polluted neighbourhoods. There is a paradox — freedom at the cost of safety and caring, vs. caring at the cost of freedom. Both the worlds are created by adults, as is the fence between these two realms. Kids view the world through this fence and the real question is, how might we break these fences and re-imagine our cities to help the kids experience a world that feeds their curiosity, learning and creativity?

Here is my simple challenge to our leaders. How might we help children to go to school on foot or by bicycle without adult supervision once every week? What do we need to do to make this happen? Could this be our Republic Day parade next year? For this to happen, we need to have the following in our neighbourhoods:

Bicycle lanes, sidewalks, zebra crossings and traffic signals
Car-free roads (four hrs during the day)
Clearing encroachments and roadside shops
Increased policing and community volunteers
Waste management and cleanliness in roads
Support from employers, schools
Eco-friendly toilets and mobile clinics
Technology to connect parents, kids and schools
Media coverage and radio support
A call centre with all important information for various stakeholders

“The day a woman can walk freely on the roads at night – that’s a day we can say that India has achieved independence,” said Mahatma Gandhi.

I’d like to add that the day a child walks to school alone without adult supervision is the day when we can say that we have achieved real freedom. This parade of school children walking in our streets without fear to their respective schools will demonstrate our commitment to building a developed nation. Will our governments and leaders work towards realising this simple challenge? It would be great to celebrate our kids walking in a parade to school in the same way that we celebrate our Republic Day parades.

Image Credits: schoolchildsafety.info

You can also read this post via

@Huffingtonpost India: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/reimagining-republic-day-_b_9120488.html

@wef Agenda: http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/when-will-our-kids-walk-to-school-again

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29Mar
Court

Marathi film ‘Court’ : Pure & Rare

The film moves at such a slow pace and every scene takes its own time. But there is a deep rooted intention that surfaces out once the film anchors you inside. The slow pace reflects the reality of the inefficient & bureaucratic Indian judicial system and the pace is indeed a critique of the speed at which the cases move in the system.

An elderly social activist, Narayan Kamble, is accused and arrested for inciting the suicide of a Mumbai sewage cleaner, Vasudev Pawar. The film tracks the trial of the case with scene after scene in the court rooms that involves two lawyers, Vinay Vohra and Nutan along with the Judge. In addition, it showcases the personal sides of the lawyers and the judge. The movement between the courtroom and the lawyer’s dining rooms exposes the flaws in the judicial system and the larger system.

chaitanya-tamhane-court

Language: Marathi

The public prosecutor, Nutan, is from a middle class family who goes to pick up her kids from school at the end of the day’s work, cooks dinner for the family and then spends some time working on her case. She reads out long sentences from the law, gets convinced by a witness presented by the police officer and asks questions that reveal her already conclusive mindset. She watches a Marathi drama that has regressive views on migrant workers and thoroughly enjoys the ideas presented in the drama. She presents the ‘bookish’ class toppers that we see in schools who end up being an ordinary guy in the work place. Nutan’s character is a critique of the Indian education system that prepares ‘bookish’ people with no empathy and no worldly views.

The judge shows his fixated mindset through his questions and conclusions. One example is when he asks the accused to pay Rs.100,000 for bail and when the lawyer explains that he is not from such a financial background to pay this amount, the judge doesn’t listen. When the lawyer points out that there is one month holiday for the courts and that it is important to give him bail on the last working day, he says that the accused can go to the high court which is open during the time.

The young lawyer, Vinay, is from a wealthy family who goes to a high end bar that has singers performing Brazilian songs, shops for wine & cheese and even, attends a session on social responsibility. He is the ‘rebel’ in the Indian sense who gets angry when his parents talk of finding the right girl for his marriage and one who goes beyond his boundaries to understand the problem. For example, he visits the victim’s house, drops the victim’s wife after she presents herself at court and even, pays a large amount for the bail to support his client.

As the trial drags on, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no clear evidence against Narayan Kamble. The deceased’s wife presents herself in the court and she helps to understand that there is less likelihood of a suicide. The deceased was not provided any protective gear when he entered the gutter to clean it and he used to drink alcohol before he entered the gutter to overcome the strong stench inside. After the court hearing, the young lawyer drives her back to her place and she asks him to help her find a job.

It was an outstanding sequence that exposes so many layers in the society with such finesse and detail. When the judge is taking to the deceased’s wife, his assistant is using her cell phone and when the judge turns to her with his notes, she puts the phone down and starts typing the notes. In the background, one can see people walking in the hall and it presents a realistic court scene. The wife of the deceased shares a shocking insight into her husband’s work where he will check whether cockroaches are coming out of the gutter which is his indicator that there is oxygen inside the gutter. When he drives her back to home, he asks her to wear seatbelt which she doesn’t know what it is and she asks her for work showcasing her hapless life that was fully dependent on her husband before. It was full of contrasts.

The camera is fixed and offers a panoramic view of every scene. It is almost like a window into that world in the script, be it the courtroom or the lawyers’ dining with the families or visiting the deceased person’s house. It allows the viewers to see the world around the characters to understand the characters and their attitude towards life. There is no music, no heroism, no negative shades and it is a narrative that allows you to see the world as it is without any pretensions.

Even when it is fully clear that there is no evidence against the accused, the police frame him in another case of sedition and the whole process gets restarted where the public prosecutor reads out a long paragraph on sedition charges. The scene ends with the camera completely still till every character leaves the courtroom and then, there is a 3 – 5 sec pause to demonstrate how slow this case is going to be in the future. With 10 minutes left for the climax, the director shows the personal side of the judge who goes for a vacation with his relative. The personal side reveals an opinionated person who is obsessed with numerology and who is so intolerant that he beats up one of his relative kids for playfully disturbing him. The film ends there and leaves it to us to evaluate the system and its shortcomings.

I am surprised to learn that this is the 28 year old director, Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film. He delivers one of the most powerful scripts through such an unconventional narrative that will leave you spellbound. The characters live in front of you, thanks to the cinematographer, who allows the frame to bring out the various hues in the characters, society and the system. There is no music which makes the film even more compelling and all the actors deliver such a subtle, realistic performance. At no point, you will feel that someone is acting and every character is beautifully designed. Without melodrama, the director has made a film that is focused on serving your brain.

Films usually demonstrate violence through blood and gory scenes. This movie has more violence than any other movies – The judge cancels a hearing citing that the lady accused was wearing a sleeveless dress sans blood and gory scenes — it shows the societal violence in our everyday lives and how it manifests in every form. Even the idea that such judges and lawyers with regressive views decide the fate of the accused will cause so much anger and violence inside the viewer which is the success of this film.

This Marathi film is a pride to Indian cinema and these kind of films need to be taken all over India to educate people on what film making is all about – bringing a world in its most original form so that we can experience it even when we cannot live in it.

Court – What Maldives is for nature, Court is for film making. PURE!

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15Mar
visaranai

Visaranai Review : Regional films need to be taken to the national masses

The spectacular growth of Tamil films can be attributed to the passionate audience. Almost every ordinary citizen is able to effortlessly dissect cinematography, screenplay, direction, background score and editing after watching a movie and not get carried away by the lead actors alone. It also explains why dubbed English films do extremely well in this part of India. And while stars such as Rajnikanth are indeed demi-gods, you’ll also witness audiences clap and whistle they see the names of music director Ilayaraja or cinematographer PC Sreeram in the title credits. The recent trend over the last 10 years is that directors like Bala, Myskin and Vetrimaran are also getting claps and whistles when their names come on screen.

It is this shift that has led to the evolution of Tamil cinema, with recent outstanding films including Pithamagan, Subramaniapuram, Aadukalam, Paruthi Veeran, Onaayum Aatukuttium, Pisasu and Kaaaka Muttai. The latest and indeed mightiest of all has been delivered by Vetrimaran through the nerve-wracking and spine-chilling Visaranai (watch the trailer here).

Vetrimaran is one director who is known for his ability to make reality even more ‘real’ and hard-hitting. In the 2007 Dhanush starrer Polladhavan, Vetrimaran took the audience to a low-income urban Chennai neighbourhood, capturing all its flavours beautifully. In Aadukalam, for which he won a National Award for Best Director, he moved to semi-urban Madurai, making it spring to life on screen. InVisaranai, he takes up a border town in Andhra where the lead characters from Tamil Nadu live as migrant workers. The story is based on real life incidents from M Chandrakumar’s novel Lock Up.

Visaranai’ means ‘interrogation’ in Tamil. Four Tamil migrant workers go through brutal assaults and torture in the name of interrogation by the local police, who want to force them into confessing their culpability in a high-profile robbery. After getting released from this torturous incarceration, they get caught in a helpless situation through the same person who helped them out of their first ordeal. What happens to them is told through a masterful screenplay by Vetrimaran.

The first half of the film establishes the two lead characters masterfully, setting the tone for the film.

Protagonist Pandi’s character is beautifully established through three scenes. He is a loyal servant who goes to open his shop even after working late the previous night. He is also intelligent, quickly figuring out when people come to his shop bearing weapons. He demonstrates his raw power to his newly found lover, who works as a maid in a rich family, by giving her a loud assurance in the middle of the road. This also helps to understand why he takes some confusing decisions, including cleaning the station and helping the locked up political sidekick, in the second half.

The other lead ‘character’ is the ruthless and corrupt system that shows how power affects the powerless. The system is laid bare in all its darkness as the film progresses to the second half. Even though the police guys act extremely tough, they also sound real when they explain their helplessness in completing a robbery case and how the system is forcing them to do certain things.

Every scene in the first half was gut-wrenching. One stand out scene:

The cops prepare a green lathi and Pandi is told that he needs to keep quiet and get up without falling when getting hit. If he falls, then his friends will get hit. The editing was top notch in that scene and when they show a close up of Pandi getting hit, the audience can almost feel the pain.

At the end of the first half, if the audience doesn’t feel a bit battered, I would be surprised. I flinched every time the lathi hit flesh, so immersed was I in that world inside the police station.

Ultimately, the workers decide to help the police inspector who saved them in the court and as a result, they get into another scary saga. The second half explores the system, showing its darkest and scariest side. The film demonstrates how you are essentially trapped unless you have the experience or power to navigate the system.

One stand out scene in the second half was the meeting between a top cop, the inspector and the police constables. The experienced police constable teaches everyone, including the top cop, how to navigate the system and the top cop then uses his power to orchestrate the system with the hapless inspector, brilliantly portrayed by Samudrakani, caught between the two. In the end, the system ends up changing the good to the bad.

Finally, it boils down to a fight between two underdogs–an inspector within the system and the four workers who are outside the system. Who wins is told through a spine-chilling and nail-biting climax.

Dinesh as Pandi and his three friends bring out the plight of migrant workers effortlessly. Samudrakani, as the inspector, was outstanding and all the actors who played the cops deserve special mention.

The art director and cinematographer bring the mood of a police station to life with their brilliant work. The editing was crisp and it is refreshing to see an Indian movie with a running time of 106 minutes. I wish the makeup was given more attention and investment. One would expect swollen faces and blood clots in wounds after such torture.

Vetrimaran, of course, is the true hero. He is a master storyteller who crafted a screenplay that captivates, and frightens, utterly. He proves that a gripping and entertaining film can be made without songs, dance sequences, big heroes and commercial elements. I watch movies from almost all regions of India on a regular basis and I don’t remember seeing a film of this kind ever.

It is a pity that such world-class films tend to go unnoticed at the national level. How many people in India know acting talents like Nivin Pauly and Dulquer Salmaan? Or films like Subramaniapuram, Onaayum Aatukuttium, Pisasu, Kaaka Muttai,Bangalore Days? How many people know the work of outstanding directors likeMyskin , Jeethu Joseph,and Bala? It is my sincere hope that movies from all regions in India reach every part of the country. After all, good movies have the power to take us to places that we have never been to and to invest us in worlds that we could never live in.

My friend Kartik who lives in Florida sent this message to me after watching the film: “Watched Visaranai. It’s 3am already. I don’t think I will be able to sleep today.” That says it all about the film.

You can read the article via Huffington Post India

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/visaranai-a-truly-world-c_b_9395440.html

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19Feb
Davos

When you don’t know swiss german

I was in Davos last month for our Annual Meeting 2016. Once I reached my apartment, I was looking for a ‘Clothes Iron’ to press my clothes and get ready for my meeting which was scheduled to happen in an hour. After an extensive search, I realized that the apartment didn’t have one. I called the Apartment owner to locate it inside the apartment. Below is our conversation.

Me: Good Evening Madam! I am calling from Rex 53. I need a clothes iron. Could you please let me know where is it inside the apartment?

Owner: English…No

Me: Iron? Clothes Iron?

Owner: English…No..German?

Me: German…No

Owner: French?

Me: Only English..No French…No German

We both were giggling but couldn’t find a way to communicate to each other. I thanked her and dropped the line. After a few mins, I sent this message below via sms

Iron Box

Within 10 mins, she was at my place with an Iron and we both had a hearty laugh. What Swiss German could not solve, a smartphone solved.

Next time, when you are stuck with Swiss German, you know what to do…:)

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