14Jan
Jallikattu

Why I am in favour of Jallikattu

The Honourable Supreme Court of India has held that the ban on jallikattu, an annual event during the Pongal festivities in Tamil Nadu will not be lifted. While the court verdict has to be honoured, I feel sad that one of my favourite childhood events is not taking place anymore because of the ban that was imposed on grounds of animal cruelty.

I am from Madurai in Tamil Nadu and Pongal is one of my favourite festivals. I have fond memories of it – the slow cycle race and other competitions, group Pongal cooking, sugarcane decorations… and of course, jallikattu which took place 20km from Madurai in Alanganallur. My aunt used to live there and every year, during the last day of the four-day festival, we’d land up to watch the parade of bulls and soak in the uniquely rural festivities.

I remember how people would stand in queues to watch the proud owners bring their prized and heavily decorated bulls with so much fanfare. Every bull that arrived in Alanganallur came in a procession and as kids, we used to be amazed at the passion and pride of the entourage. More than the actual bullfighting, we used to enjoy the festive atmosphere in the small town and the rituals.

To give some background, Pongal is the Tamil harvest festival that is celebrated over four days.
Day 1: Bhogi day is when people discard their old worn-out belongings to mark new beginnings. The houses are painted and cleaned to welcome the harvest season.

Day 2: The main Pongal day, which is the start of the harvest season. At home, we cook Pongal and when the dish starts overflowing, we relate to it as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, happily cheering “Pongalo Pongal”.

Day 3: Mattu Pongal (Pongal for Cattle) is when we thank cattle for bestowing so much to us, from food to fertiliser to labour. People garland their cattle, paint the horns and worship the animals.

Day 4: Kannum Pongal (kannum in Tamil means “to visit”) is where the villagers celebrate the last day of the festival visiting friends and relatives with gifts of sugarcane and fruits.

Jallikattu is more than a sport or an event. It is part of Tamil cultural identity. When we debate an issue, it needs to be framed holistically. I remember a famous quote, “Ask not what is inside the head but what the head is inside of”. Below are some reasons why I believe that this sport needs to be protected and preserved, while also ensuring that the animals are treated properly.
The preservation of cultural identity

Jallikattu is closely associated with Tamil culture and is considered to be one of the oldest living traditions in the modern era. Some Tamil historians claim that it dates back to 1500BC, citing as evidence a rock painting of bull-chasing at Karikkiyur in the Nilgiris. Popular Tamil Actor Kamal Haasan, during the Tamil version of Kaun Banega Crorepati a few years ago, gave a beautiful explanation saying that the historic name is Yeru Thazhuvudhal (Embracing the Bull) which later became Jallikattu. According to him, this sport was intended to build strength and stamina in youth and to prepare bulls to contend with adverse situations.

In addition, many locals argue that these bulls belong to the some rare breeds in the region (including the most famous Kangeyam breed). The owners of these bulls invest lot of money to rear these bulls with utmost care over many years and prepare them for this event. This is an important culture, one that continues a long-lasting tradition of living with animals; this is something that needs to be preserved. There are so many cultural subthemes and rituals associated with jallikattu that will be lost forever once the event is discontinued.

Cruelty needs to be understood and redefined

I stopped eating meat two years ago and I am against cruelty to animals. However, while animal rights activists have some valid concerns regarding cruel treatment of animals during the event, the solution needs to explore how we can prevent these practices instead of shutting down the entire event.

Meat consumption is at an all-time high and animals lose their life to feed people. This is a daily ritual for many people all over the world – does anyone suggest banning the meat industry? In fact, meat consumption takes away the life of animals whereas jallikattu doesn’t usually go that far.

Life is all about choices. We are okay with treating animals cruelly for food on a daily basis while we are against this event where while the animals do suffer during the event (which is something that can be prevented), they are extremely well taken care of for the remaining 364 days. In that context, we can argue that all horse racing/riding and even milk extraction from cows are cruel. We need to understand and redefine cruelty.

Jallikattu needs to be seen in the context of other festivals

If jallikattu has to be banned, what do we do about Diwali? During Diwali week, pollution levels reach hazardous levels in Delhi because of all the fireworks. People suffer as a result. So, do we try to mitigate the pollution caused during the festival or do we speak of banning Diwali? Similarly, we don’t ban vehicular driving in highways despite the many accidents that take place. We examine ways to reduce accidents and design new policies to improve the outcomes. Why don’t we apply the same logic and explore solutions to ensure that the animals are not subjected to any cruelty during the event? If we keep banning all our traditional festivals for various reasons, we might as well start importing customs and rituals from elsewhere!

The tourism ecosystem needs to be preserved

Tamil Nadu is the only destination listed among the must-see places of 2016 in the rankings recently released by The New York Times. According to the Union Tourism Ministry report of 2014, Tamil Nadu drew 4.66 million foreign tourists in 2014 and ranked first among all states. The Pongal festival season is a big attraction for tourists and it is an opportunity to demonstrate not just the heritage structures but also the lifestyle and the richness of our festivals. When a cultural ecosystem is abandoned, it is going to move all the people associated with it to already cramped cities. These events, festivals and rituals are bringing people from cities back to the villages and by stopping the from taking place, we are doing a big disservice to society.

With increased urbanisation and globalisation, we are increasingly shifting to value systems and culture that are borrowed from outside. While it is important to be open to embrace good things from different value systems, it is equally important to preserve our own culture and tradition to ensure that the rich heritage that India offers to the world doesn’t disappear. It is at the intersection of tradition and modernisation that true beauty lies, as we have seen from successful examples in Europe and Japan. India is a land of great history and culture. It is our responsibility to preserve this heritage even as we embrace new value systems so that our next generation is able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

I hope the honourable Supreme Court and the Government of India reconsider the possibility of hosting Jallikattu to protect a rich tradition while ensuring that the concerns of animal rights activists are addressed. Banning is not a scalable solution. Also, solutions cannot be framed in “either-or” terms. They need be framed with an inclusive “and”. We need solutions that scale and that bring harmony to all stakeholders across all dimensions.

You can also read this article in Huffington Post India via

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/why-i-am-in-favour-of-jal_b_8972140.html

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12Jan
indian-like-in-social-media

To show your patriotism, behave responsibly online

Lt Col Niranjan, a young man of 34, lost his life defending his country and its citizens against terrorists last week. He left behind his parents, young wife and his two-year-old daughter, Vismaya. We’ve seen people on social media pay their respects, but now they’ll go back to spreading hate in the name of religion, politics and nation. The government has announced a compensation package for the family, had a 21-gun salute for Niranjan’s funeral and now their job is done.

Niranjan1

Now that the operation is over and the follow-up drama is over, shall we think of the little girl who lost her father? As a father of two, it breaks my heart to think of her growing up without him. She’s not the only one who has been in that predicament of course. We have seen scores of pictures and videos over the last 20 years of various military personnel losing their lives in the service of the nation.

I have started to question why only soldiers have to take care of their country. Can we civilians not defend our country and what it stands for too, starting with the virtual battlefield? Here are three suggestions.

1. Stop posting hate messages based on religion

Much of the virulence on social media revolves around religion. When I open Facebook, I see that at least 10% of the posts are about whose religion is superior or inferior. Faith is a deeply personal matter and the best thing that you can do is to actually practice the moral ideals that are prescribed by your religion instead of engaging in contentious debates (usually without any scriptural knowledge). Take a cue from our soldiers, who leave their religious identities behind and operate with a common national identity.

2. Stop posting hate messages based on politics

Another common theme is the rapid firing of insults between supporters of opposing political ideologies. We are prone to sacrificing logic and factual accuracy just to make a point, to score a cheap win. For example, a friend of mine posted a picture of a Guinness Book of World records certificate announcing Kannada is the oldest language in the world. I went to the Guinness website and realised that the “certificate” was fake. How much time would it take to go and verify facts before we share them? Most of us can’t be bothered. There are kids, students who are watching these arguments online and what will they learn from us? The soldiers leave all their political identities behind and operate with a common national identity.

3. Stop posting hate messages based on nation

The third common theme that we encounter is hate messages between countries, especially between India and Pakistan. In a globalised world, every country is dependent on others for its survival. The world is more connected than ever and every citizen is an ambassador in the borderless world of social media. Such messages of hate fuel the divisive agenda of terrorists and give our own nation a bad name. A country is judged by how its people behave with tourists and by how its netizens behave with strangers on the internet.

Technology is a powerful tool and we all know that the pen is mightier than the sword. Social media gives us unprecedented power to cross borders, voice opinions and engage in arguments with anyone from anywhere. But it comes with a huge responsibility. The world is more interconnected than ever. Every citizen who wants his country to do well and who wants to show his patriotism needs to use this mighty weapon in their hands in a very responsible way because each of their actions and messages have far-reaching implications. The best way we can show our patriotism to our country is by being responsible on social media.

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1Jan
Barcelona

We are all ambassadors for our country : Impressions from Barcelona

We went to Barcelona in mid-December and spent three days there. The first SMS that I received when I landed in the city was “Beware of mobile phone thieves in Spain”. Needless to say, this did not give a good impression of Spain. Most of the friends I had spoken to also didn’t speak highly of the safety in the country. With this perception in my mind, I went about my trip with my family, starting with the famous Barcelona FC stadium.

After the visit, we went into a roadside kiosk outside the stadium to have some pastries and coffee. My son asked for a hot dog and once he started eating, he asked me, “What meat is this?” The shopkeeper, in his unclear English, said it was pork. My son spit the food out and told me that he would not eat pork. The shopkeeper took the hot dog from his hands and said it was okay. I told the shopkeeper that it was my fault that I didn’t check which meat it was and that I would pay for the hot dog. The shopkeeper said no and even though I tried to press him to take the money for the hotdog, he refused, saying it was for a child. We’re talking about € 3.5 here, which for a roadside kiosk operator is not a small amo
unt. His generosity and caring attitude made such a powerful impression that I bought two additional bottles of soft drinks to “compensate” for the loss that I caused for him. My opinion of Barcelona had already changed.

Barcelona

After visiting Plaça d’Espanya, we visited the Picasso Museum. After spending a good 90 minutes in the wonderful museum, we went to the museum shop to buy some souvenirs. I told my kids that they could have € 10 each to buy a souvenir. My son came to the billing counter with a small diary, saying, “This is for € 6. Can I take it?” I said okay, but when he gave the diary to the billing staff, they said my son would have to give them € 19. This was not within my son’s budget and I told him as much, but he insisted that the diary was tagged with a label that said it was for €6. The billing staff went to check and when they returned they agreed to give him the diary for €6 because they’d made a mistake in the labelling. My son quickly went and picked another book for € 6, and this time to the price upon scanning turned out to be €19. The staff checked out this anomaly as well, and came back with a smile saying that the whole shelf had some wrong labels. He asked me to take it for € 6 as he didn’t want to disappoint my son but I said that I would pay the € 19 Euros. He refused and I insisted, but even as our exchange continued my son picked up another small book for €6. Fortunately, the price was right this time and there were smiles all around. I had already started liking Barcelona and its people.

From there we went to La Rambla for dinner and then to our hotel, which was a little away from the downtown area. I called the hotel reception to get the address and a gentleman asked me to get down at Marina station and walk for five minutes in a certain direction, take a right turn at the junction after crossing two streets and then walk for 200m. I ended up crossing the junction and lost my way. It was 8pm and there were not many people on the road. I tried talking to a few people but they didn’t speak English and then called the hotel again. He tried to guide me and he realised that I was not able to figure out the route. He asked for the names of the buildings around me, made his own estimate of where I was and asked me to wait there. Within five minutes, he came with his car and took all of us to the hotel. Once we reached there, we realised that he was the only staff at the reception but still took the risk of leaving his desk and help us out. He took my respect for Barcelona to a new level.

We form our perceptions about any place based on our experiences. Whether a perception is good or bad is shaped by the acts of the various people we encounter in a city. The small acts of kindness and generosity that we encountered on the first day of our trip made such a powerful impression on us and we really fell in love with the city. We were also able to overcome our former biases, which were based on the experiences of a few other people.

When I talk about my trip to Barcelona, I am not just talking about my experience in the city but rather, my experience in Spain. Those three people are going to be our data points when we talk about a city and that city alone is going to be our data point when we talk about Spain, the country. Each of us can make a difference by being an ambassador for not just our city, but for our country, our culture through small acts of kindness, humility and generosity.

Happy New Year! Be an ambassador!

You can read the article in Huffington Post India via

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/you-are-your-countrys-amb_b_8902828.html

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13Dec
India Monsoon Flooding

Chennai’s Flood Fight Makes A Strong Case For Self-Governance

Over the last few days, Chennai witnessed unprecedented rains that brought everyone and everything to their knees, sorry, hips. What was heartening was the fact that the citizens showed their resilience and compassion by helping one another in countless ways. Social media was also used creatively to help those affected by the floods. The people of Chennai have proven that self-governance is possible provided they have the right tools and technology.

A few examples of how people creatively helped each other :

1. They set up control rooms to co-ordinate relief efforts and centralise all information

2. They posted messages if they could accommodate extra people to let those stranded nearby have somewhere to seek shelter.

3. They raised money online, sharing receipts and pictures of the things that they purchased for flood survivors.

4. Someone suggested that all wi-fi routers use the word Chennai as the login and password so the city could be one large hotspot that that anyone could use to contact relatives and seek or mobilise help.

5. To prevent the spread of misinformation, people called to verify whether a particular message was true or not and then used the hashtag #verified

Personally, what I found most beautiful to witness was the “wisdom of crowds” – how people self-organised effectively, learning, adjusting and solving problems. For example, one person posted that a software company had arranged buses to take citizens out of Chennai. Another person called the company, verified that the news was wrong and quickly alerted everyone. Within 30 minutes, those posts were gone. It was crowd theory at its best.
Chennai 1

On the other hand, the government machinery was totally ineffective, as they neither had the means nor the experience to coordinate anything. The bottom-up approach to tackling the disaster simply eliminated the need for a top-down intervention and in the process, it even provided an opportunity to the citizens to demonstrate their creativity, compassion and helped them to come close to each other.

All around us, we can see that truly complex systems thrive without hierarchy. Market economies, traffic systems, the human brain and natural eco-systems are all highly complex, non-linear, adaptive systems that operate without hierarchy. We have seen in our cities how crowds self-organise whenever there is a traffic jam – in fact, we need to do some research to get data points between outcomes when systems are in place (for example, traffic signals) versus where they are not (for example, sexagenarian Mr Ramprasad who helps to regulate traffic in his neighbourhood near IIM Bangalore).

I was reminded of educational researcher Dr Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments that demonstrated how, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest. This was mirrored in Chennai which proved that people can govern themselves if they have the right tools and technology. After all, a government is a process created by people to govern themselves. Here are some insights from Dr Mitra’s famous TED talk:
Can Tamil-speaking children in a south Indian village learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer? And I said, I’ll measure them. They’ll get a zero. I’ll spend a couple of months, I’ll leave it for a couple of months, I’ll go back, they’ll get another zero. I’ll go back to the lab and say, we need teachers. I found a village. It was called Kallikuppam in southern IChennai 3ndia. I put in Hole in the Wall computers there, downloaded all kinds of stuff from the internet about DNA replication, most of which I didn’t understand.
The children came rushing, said, “What’s all this?” So I said, “It’s very topical, very important. But it’s all in English.” So they said, “How can we understand such big English words and diagrams and chemistry?” So by now, I had developed a new pedagogical method, so I applied that. I said, “I haven’t the foggiest idea… And anyway, I am going away.” So I left them for a couple of months. They’d got a zero. I gave them a test. I came back after two months and the children trooped in and said, “We’ve understood nothing.”
I said, “What? You don’t understand these screens and you keep staring at it for two months? What for? So a little girl… she raised her hand, and she says to me in broken Tamil and English… “Well, apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven’t understood anything else.”

The principles of self-management have already been put to use in the private sector by companies like Zappos, Sun Hydraulics and Buurtzorg with great impact and outcomes where employees govern themselves without formal hierarchical roles, structures and leaders. There are tools like Holacracy that facilitate the self-management process and a “leaderless” movement is emerging.

With the right tools and structures, the mindsets of citizens can be effectively oriented to “how can I contribute?” from “who can I blame?” Over the last few days, we saw this mindset in Chennai. People were not blaming anyone, even the politicians, and in fact, whenever someone started a blame game, the crowd quickly put it off. This may change after a few days but it is commendable.

What is government, after all? It is a process created by people to govern themselves. Why do we have to stick to a process that doesn’t work effectively?

The Chennai example proves that self-governance is possible and validates the need for a Holacracy-type model in governance where citizens can actively participate and contribute solutions for the problems that they are facing in their lives on a daily basis. It can work closely with traditional governance structures after creating the right interfaces between the two models. Leaders need to shed the “I” and melt into the “we” to leverage the wisdom of crowds and their collective consciousness. Hats off to the people of Chennai! They showed what is possible and have created opportunities to take governance to a new level.

You can also read the article via Huffingtonpost
http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/what-the-chennai-people-t_b_8728762.html

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12Dec
India Phases Out The Padmini Taxi

Three Drives , Three stories and One bleak reality

I visited Mumbai after almost two years last week. In spite of what others say about the city, I love the energy, the cosmopolitan culture and the wonderful local delicacies such as pav bhaji, misal pav, poha and kandha bhaji.

I got into three illuminating conversations during my two days there, and they all had two things in common: (1) they were with taxi drivers who took me around to different parts of Mumbai; and (2) All three were from the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Drive 1: I was going from Nariman Point to Worli for a meeting when I got into a conversation with Raju, the driver. As we were driving through Marine Drive, he started complaining about the long line of young couples who were lost in their romance, and rued how times have changed. “These youngsters watch movies and want to recreate the filmi world in their real lives. Look at the kids who are watching them; they’re bound to get spoiled like them.” I asked him whether he had children and he said that he has four. His family lives in UP, in a village near Allahabad and he stays alone in Byculla. He rents the taxi for Rs 400 every day and his income doesn’t allow him to bring his family to Mumbai. Instead, he visits his home in UP once in six months. Mumbai is for rich people, he said.

Drive 2: I was going from Nariman Point to Worli, this time in a cool cab, a blue version of the black and yellow Mumbai taxis with air-conditioners. The driver’s name is Mohammed and he is also from a town near Allahabad. He also has a family that lives in UP and he lives alone in a slum in the Worli area. He was unusually calm and chatted to me about how the climate has changed dramatically in recent times. Novembers were hot these days, he complained. When I enquired about his family, he also mentioned how expensive the city is and that his income doesn’t allow him to lead a family life in Mumbai. He goes once a year to his native place and stays there for a month. The drive cost me a steep Rs 812 but I really enjoyed the conversation.

Drive 3: I was going from Nariman Point to Bandra Kurla complex for a meeting when I got into a conversation with Manoj, the driver. Manoj has five kids and his family lives near Lucknow. He lives in the Cotton Green area with his friends and goes back home twice a year. He didn’t bring his family for three reasons: the costs are prohibitive, there’s no support system in Mumbai and the city is not safe for kids. He mentioned that outsiders like him constantly fear getting beaten up because of local politics but that he has no choice but to carry on as he is the sole breadwinner of a large family back home. He said he makes sure to avoid arguments, but believes that people from his state are targeted for all the wrong reasons.

Each of those drivers has a family and children. Those kids will want to spend time with their father and learn from him. Because of a lack of education and the promise of a steady income, these poor drivers come to Mumbai, live alone and send money back home. I wondered how these families lead their lives, with the father living alone in Mumbai and with, on an average, three or four children to raise. What about the needs of the driver’s kids? How will they relate to other kids who live a life with their parents and go to good schools? What kinds of aspirations will they have? What image will they have of their father? What about the wife’s sexual needs? What is her role as a wife? What will motivate her on a daily basis?

The taxi driver doesn’t have it easy either. How will he relate to the families that board his taxi? What thoughts will be going through in his mind when he sees the rich families leading a luxurious life when he can see his near and dear ones only once in a year? What about his sexual needs? How often will he talk to his family? What will he tell his kids when he talks to them? He doesn’t have insurance, doesn’t have a safety net because of local politics and leads a life of loneliness even though he may have friends like him. I wondered how much anger brews inside each one of the taxi drivers when they see other people who lead a life with their families. Just because they were born in a poor household with a few opportunities and a lack of guidance, their life has no scope of changing and now, that cycle is going to continue for their kids. Yes, there may be one among a thousand who escapes this vicious cycle but I assume this is the case with most of these immigrants.

In their native place, they could earn Rs 2000-3000 doing this job but in the name of big money, they come to these big cities and earn Rs 6,000 – 8,000 per month. With all the expenses, their income will be either the same or even less when compared to their native places. They live alone in extremely cramped spaces and are vulnerable to all kinds of evils. Somewhere in all our minds, we are prioritising money over everything and this applies to all sections of society. In the process, we are losing our sense of community, our freedom and our ecosystems.

We are fighting on social media over petty issues. We fight along religious lines. We fight on the basis of language and region. We also feel proud about the history of our country. These people have neither the time nor the money to fight along these lines, nor the pride to feel included in our glorious history. Their present is chaotic and their future is dark. They live far away from the social media world and they are nowhere near being included in our daily scheme of things. Next time, when you are travelling in a taxi or dealing with a worker, please be compassionate with them as they go through so much and they need our empathy. It is the least we can do to make them feel included in our society.

You can also read the post via Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/three-drives-three-storie_b_8676904.html

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16Nov
Millennial 2

3 ways companies can attract millennials

Young people are increasingly demanding when it comes to choosing an employer or making a purchasing decision, according to a survey by the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.

More than 75% of the 1,000+ respondents said they supported buying from local manufacturers rather than buying imported goods and services; and 67.3% of them said that this was good for the local economy and job creation.

Millennial 1

 

Millennial 2

Below are three things that companies need to do to engage with millennials as potential employees and customers:

  1. Showcase how their organization connects with communities

In 2013 Coca Cola, one of the partners of the Global Shapers Community, waved goodbye to their corporate website and created their “journey” website to showcase their engagement with a variety of topics.

  1. Forge strategic partnerships with organizations that enable young employees to give back to society

The Abraaj Group launched the Abraaj Growth Markets Grant, a competition open to Global Shapers to address key challenges using the power of positive engagement. Winning projects range from projects that aim to build toilets in India and offering business-skills training to young people in Nigeria to closing the technology gender gap in Morocco.

  1. Design programmes that enable employees to pursue passions outside work

Leading IT company SAP designed a social sabbatical programme that allows employees to contribute their time and talent to helping entrepreneurs and small businesses in emerging markets. The employees are deployed for four weeks to work on local projects, which range from the development of a supply-chain strategy to promote local artisans, to a communications strategy for thousands of local recyclable material collectors.

This post was originally published in https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/3-ways-companies-can-attract-millennials/

 

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13Jul
Baahubali

Baahubali – Movie review

I wasn’t very sure whether this movie will release in Geneva but thanks to the small Telugu community in Geneva, the movie got released. Telugu is such a sweet language and I enjoy listening to Telugu songs. This is my first Telugu movie in a theater.

We have seen many times in the past where a big build up and hype will be created around a movie that it is the first of its kind ever made in India with such a grand scale and that the movie was the answer to Hollywood. Finally, when you watch the film, you will end up complaining about the poor quality visual effects, shaky storyline and waste of money spent for the ticket. Later, the same hype creators will come and explain how they had limited budget and with that budget, this was the best they could offer. But Baahubali lives up to the hype and Director SS Rajamouli doesn’t offer any excuses.

After watching Kaakamuttai, I was convinced that storytelling doesn’t require ‘grandeur’ and ‘glitter’. But within two weeks, SS Rajamouli proved me wrong. If you are telling a ‘Raja Rani’ story, then you need a gargantuan stage and a pompous show. It is not just any show. It is THE show and it is the biggest SHOW Indian cinema has ever seen.For the first time, I felt that this movie is really the answer to Hollywood war movies and you can proudly show to your international friends that India can produce such films of the highest quality.

The film starts with a brilliant opening sequence involving Ramya Krishnan as the queen trying to escape with a baby in hand and when it stops with her hand holding the baby in storming river, you are already into the movie. The first half sails smoothly establishing the characters and the plot with some tasteful scenes. The hero, Prabhas, is unconventionally good. When he unearths the linga and walks by carrying it in his shoulders, his physique makes you believe that he can carry something of that size. Rana Daggubati looks majestic and with Prabhas, they make you feel that kings are indeed strong and macho. Great selection! It was heartbreaking to see my favourite heroine Anushka as the incarcerated queen but she is good as usual. Ramya Krishnan gives a commanding performance as the queen while Tamannah, Sathyaraj and Nasser play convincing roles in the film.

The second half was magic on the screen. The war strategies that they adopt have not been seen in any international war movie and the visual effects plus art direction was top notch. I was in the industry for 7 years and this work is by far the best I have seen in Indian cinema. Also, the war scenes are day light shots which gives little room to ‘mask’ things. The Art director deserves special appreciation for creating that imaginary world with such detail. The scale, the set design, the texture and the props were very appropriate and they immerse you into the world. The camerawork needs mention especially the scale that he created for the waterfalls and for the war sequence. The VFX team has done an exceptional job giving life to the art director’s vision to create the kingdom. The editor and VFX team deliver the best war sequence ever seen on Indian cinema and it was mind blowing.

SS Rajamouli, the maker stands out. He stands tall with his vision and ambition and he executed his vision with such finesse. With Eega, he showed his storytelling abilities using a technology medium and in this movie, he showed what is possible with the technology. He held a fine balance between getting the grandeur through CG while keeping a decently tight storyline. With all the complexities that would naturally force you to get lost, as we have seen in the past, SS Rajamouli stays firmly put keeping his story-line not dominated by CG. He delivered world class quality with a shoe string budget for a movie of this scale.

The climax scene was beautifully shot and Prabhas roars like a lion in Silhouette. I am waiting for Part 2 but this movie has already made me feel proud about the possibilities created by this wonderful director.

Telugu cinema has given Indian cinema a renewed hope and belief that sky is the limit provided one has the audacity to dream and deliver. SS Rajamouli has shown how a regional film, if made well, can capture the minds of audiences across the world. He has re-defined himself as one of the finest directors in the world who can tell convincing stories in such grand scale and defined that the maker is bigger than everyone when it comes to film-making.

Bāgā jarugutundi! బాగా జరుగుతుంది (used google translator)

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11Jul
kaaka-muttai-movie_2429224f

Kaaka Muttai – Movie Review

Packed with nuance and equal parts uplifting and thought-provoking Kaaka Muttai (The Crow’s Egg) is a game-changer for Indian cinema. Released in June this year, the Tamil film tells the story of two slum children and their quest to eat a slice of pizza. It is a tale of globalisation, poverty and resilience told with the utmost purity and soulfulness.

I live in Switzerland and have two kids. My son, while watching the film, asked me, “Appa, can we live in this place (referring to the slum where the film’s protagonists stay with their family)? They have everything – a dog, goats and everything.” I had no words. Here was a kid living in Switzerland aspiring to live a humbler life that contains not a trace of iPads or computer games. This is one half of the success of the film – it makes you question the consumerist ideals of society. The other success is that it makes you question your own choices and contributions to the world. I felt guilty as I thought about the fact that millions of children cannot afford simple pleasures such as pizza and that I never once thought of perhaps just getting them a slice.

“The film shows a world that looks dirty, yet is made beautiful by the people populating it.”

The film shows a world that looks dirty, yet is made beautiful by the people populating it. A plastic toy watch in a waste collection shop gives so much happiness to the lead character; the kids use a polythene bag to fetch water so that their grandmother can take a bath; a coke pet bottle is cut and used as a lamp shade – things that we take for granted are luxuries for these kids and their community.

Some truly magical scenes mark the journey of the kids as they go in search for their pizza. You should watch the film to truly appreciate these scenes, but here are a few that despite their subtlety speak volumes:

– The scene in which the grandmother tries to replicate a pizza for her grandsons using dosa mix; the kids happily support the process only to realise that the result doesn’t look like the delicacy they have been aspiring for.

– The scene in which the gatekeeper of the pizza shop doesn’t allow the kids to enter the premises. This is the moment in which the children realise that money isn’t enough and that society is not equal.

– The scene in which Pazharasam, a railway worker, opens the coal warehouse so that the kids can take the coal and sell it to make money for the pizza. One child asks Pazharasam, “Are we stealing?” To this Pazharasam replies, “We are taking.” We can call it corruption but we know where it stems from.

– The scenes in which the slum children meet a child who lives in an upscale locality. There is a fence between them, creating the impression that while the poor kids roam free the rich one is caged in.

– The scene in which two rich kids ask their father for pani puri and complain that they are getting shirts which they never wanted. In contrast, the young protagonists get so much love and affection from their grandma and mother – a priceless experience rather than a pricey gadget or treat.

The kids finally manage to save enough money, get good clothes and go to the pizza shop but the manager of the shop slaps one of them and kicks him out. The kids leave puzzled, not understanding why they weren’t let inside the shop. The story doesn’t end there, of course, and the kids eventually get the pizza they so crave but to tell you how and to what effect would be too much of a spoiler!

Director N Manikandan is the real hero of this film and he ensures simplicity from the start to the end which is the most difficult thing to do. The two kids make the story so real for the audience through their effortless acting and Iyshwarya Rajesh, as the mother of the kids, delivers a stunning performance. Special credit needs to be given to the art director for showing the world of a slum with gritty realism, particularly in the mood he created in the scene where the dead grandmother is kept outside the house.

The film is a journey that helps us to question the world – to ask “why” – through the eyes of the kids. When I was a small child, I used to look at Western tourists and wonder what they’d done, other than being born in a different country, to deserve such a high standard of life. Inequality is the root of all conflicts and this movie shows us how it enters a child’s world.

Big budget and good looks don’t make a great film. Director Manikandan has elevated Tamil Cinema, hence Indian cinema, to a new level. See it and you’ll understand why the film has been such a box office smash and has attracted so much international acclaim as well.

You can also read the review via @Huffingtonpost

 http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/kaaka-muttai-a-new-benchm_b_7734044.html

 

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10Jul
phd-degree-in-education-300x260

Jackfruit & PhD

Why does one need a PhD to teach students?’ – I asked this question to several academics over the years and the common answer that I got was – “It is like a passport or driving license to be a Professor”. This is not at all convincing to me. Then it is a ritual like the driving license that we get in India which neither tells the quality of the driver nor ensures the safety in the roads. What led to the need for such a license? What is that skill or ability that you will develop if you do a PhD? Why is that skill important to become a Professor?

I posted this question in social media to some of my friends and some of the answers that I got was

PhD

Another friend who holds a PhD told me that one needs a PhD to understand the complex research from the journals, distill it and present to the students in a simple way.These answers are interesting and they address some aspects of my question but not my core question. Another friend posed an interesting question //why is a bachelors or master degree in a subject needed for teaching school students a subject?//. This brought a new dimension to my question. Whether it is primary school or PhD students, there is ‘teaching’ involved and depending on the complexity, the requirement changes from Bachelors to Masters to PhD.

Recently, I introduced Khan Academy lessons to my kids with the hope that their Math will improve. In 2 weeks, I realized that Khan Academy is not a substitute to a teacher but rather a tool to practice a concept after you have understood it. It teaches Math as a sequence of steps and whenever I allowed my children to start a concept with Khan Academy, their understanding tend to be very weak. Whenever I help them to understand the concept and then use Khan academy to make them practice, it worked out to be effective. A small misstep here can ruin a child’s understanding of a subject which will take many years of unlearning to course correct later.

The basic math would have also come from deep research where some researcher would have studied about the process of imparting knowledge to kids and educators would have taken every possible effort to find an approach that works for most kids. Even after this, the learning styles are different and so, recently it is being discussed on how educators can cater to individual learning style. When the subjects become complex with so many variables, so many layers and so many nuances, it becomes even more hard. What I realized is that teaching involves two things 1. Discovering the truth about a subject and understand the process of discovery 2. Using your ‘truth’ to help the student to gain interest in a subject and help them to find their own truth about the subject.

Let me explain through a simple example. People from tropical countries know Jack-fruit. To know more about the fruit, please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit. When I was a kid, my father used to bring jack-fruits during his trips to Kodaikanal , a beautiful hill station 3 hrs from my hometown. But to cut the hard outer cover and take the edible fruits outside is a nightmare. There are many videos available in youtube too. Once taken out, it is a feast for us, kids, because the fruit is so delicious. I think this analogy may help to explain my point.

If I have to explain what is the best way to cut a jack-fruit, I need to understand 1. What is jack-fruit and how it is organized? 2.what are the different types of jack-fruits available in the world? 3. what are their similarities and differences? 4. What are the different techniques used in different parts of the world? 5. When is it eligible for cutting, how do you identify whether a jack-fruit is ripe and so on and so forth?There may be many more questions and there is a tree of questions with cause and effect that needs to be understood and answered. This will help me to find my ‘truth’ about the best way to cut a jack-fruit. I can use this truth and the process of getting the truth to educate my students. But it doesn’t stop there.

The real question is ‘Why do we have to cut the jack-fruit?’. The purpose of cutting a jack-fruit is to take the edible fruits outside and help the people to enjoy the fruits. Otherwise, why do we have to invest so much time and effort to cut the fruit?Most of the PhD dissertations are of no practical use to anyone and they rest in the libraries of universities without much value. A student spends 3 – 7 years of his life to do this PhD and if the fruits of the work is not going to be consumed by someone, what is the use of learning to cut this jack-fruit? How do we expect the PhD to help his students?

A PhD needs to impart the rigor, curiosity and pursuit of truth along with an ability to help others finding their own truth. Whether it is for primary school students or for MBA students or astrophysics students, the job of a teacher is to help them discover the truth around the subject. For that, the teacher should have a clear understanding of the truth himself. The assumption that PhD will help a potential teacher to discover his truth and help students to discover their truth is not a valid assumption. Let us test these assumptions and re-define the need for doctorates.

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4Jul
Lokesh 1

6 Reflections from a Global Leadership program

As a child growing up in South India, the term “leadership” evoked images of Mahatma Gandhi leading thousands of freedom fighters in his non-violent movement against the British. My earliest memory of being in a leadership role was when I was class leader in Standard 6. My job was to note down the names of students who talked in class while the teacher was out, condemning them thus to a caning. I didn’t like this role and it did not fit in with my image of what a leader should be. I was left with a lingering question: What is leadership?

Over the years, different definitions resonated with me at different stages of my life. After 2.5 years of the Global Leadership Fellows (GLF) program at the World Economic Forum, I graduated last week from the program.

Below are six reflections on leadership from my GLF journey.

1. What leadership is not

While I was trying to understand what leadership is, a former colleague Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo gave a beautiful farewell speech in 2013 in which he highlighted what is not leadership. Until that time, I used to think in terms of leadership and followership. What he said was very powerful – “The opposite of leadership is cynicism and not followership.” It was a paradigm shift in my thinking. Followership is an integral component of leadership, and a person who is consumed by cynicism can neither lead nor follow. A leader needs to follow his vision, his values and even his followers to lead effectively.

“Instead of trying to change individual behaviours, a leader needs to work towards shaping contexts.”

2. Leaders must understand and shape contexts

Instead of trying to change individual behaviours, a leader needs to work towards shaping contexts. In India, we see people breaking queues, throwing litter on the streets and not following traffic rules. But when the same people go to Singapore or the UAE or Switzerland, they do all the right things. What makes the same Indian stand in a queue and throw litter in a trashcan in Singapore? It is not just the law but the context that changes behaviour. Understanding and shaping contexts is key to creating positive engagement.

3. Leaders must accept their dark side too

We usually try to project only the brighter side of our lives — our achievements, success stories, happy memories — at work or in social situations. But our past failures and our difficult moments actually provide the character, insights and resilience required to become a successful leader. It is important to accept ourselves with all our bright and dark spots for peace in our everyday lives. As part of the Fellowship, we have this peer coaching group — a group of four or five fellows who can share their difficulties and get coaching in a safe space. It is invaluable. Making ourselves vulnerable helps us to cleanse our egos and creates an authentic environment where peace and trust prevail.

4. Understand your lead question

Different organisations have different lead questions in terms of value creation. It is important to understand these lead questions to achieve balance as we create value. I started my career as a 3D animator where I was creating value using what I know (skills). Over the years, I started managing a large team and my question changed from what do I know to how do we do. It has since then moved to why and what if to who do we know. Each lead question requires us to present a new skill or dimension of ourselves. It informs us on how we have to organise ourselves to create value and it takes time. It is the awareness to understand the existence of these different lead questions and the ability to adapt and stay agile that makes a leader who can make good choices around resource allocation.

“Before others disrupt us, we need to disrupt and renew ourselves constantly.”

5. Define or redefine for yourself

I met Andrés Piñeiro Coen , an amazing Global Shaper from Panama City during my trip to Panama last year. He shared his backpacking trip experience in South America during our drive from the Pacific to the Atlantic enroute to San Blas islands in Panama. Whenever he wanted to eat meat, he slaughtered and cooked it himself during the trip. After a while, he couldn’t take the pain that living beings go through and he stopped eating meat. He said something profound – “If you can kill, you can eat. But if you cannot kill and eat, that is disrespectful.” As a young child, I saw goats being slaughtered out in the open and could never eat the lamb curry my mother cooked at home. Over the years, I had started eating meat for various reasons and this sharing from Andres helped me to connect me to my roots. I was able to give up meat without any cravings for it. I defined what is vegetarian for me. I eat eggs and if no vegetarian food is available, I will eat meat fully respecting the fact that a living being gave its life to feed me. I have since then started to define – and redefine — what anything means to me.

6. Disrupt yourself

One of the reasons why companies get disrupted is because they commit resources around a certain strategy. When the strategy fails, it hard to reallocate the resources. What companies need are resources that have “strategic flexibility” so that they can adapt and adjust. This is a problem for not just companies but also for individuals. An animator who becomes an expert by investing a significant amount of resources and time on a particular software can be disrupted easily when a new technology is introduced in the organisation. It is true for leadership also. We need to realise that whatever answer we have is not permanent. We need to stay detached from both the approach and outcome so that we can develop the flexibility to defend against disruptions. Before others disrupt us, we need to disrupt and renew ourselves constantly.

My favourite definition of leadership, by John Quincy Adams, is this: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader.” To this I would add that leadership is a space in which people come together to express themselves fully to realise their individual and collective potentials.

The above reflections gave a feeling to me that I have found the answers. But I quickly realised that the answers are not permanent. When the questions stop or in other words, when there are “no more” questions, we have an answer. When the question resumes, the answers change. Keeping the questions going when we have an answer is the way to sustain the leadership journey and the growth process.

The post was published in Huffington Post India : http://www.huffingtonpost.in/vijayanand-raju/6-leadership-reflections-_b_7702632.html?utm_hp_ref=india

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