English Vinglish and Diamonds are Forever



Wondering what the title refers to….well, given that I have run out of creative topics to post about, just thought I would try and get back into the groove of writing by providing short synopses of two wonderful articles I just read today. So, here goes….


The first article I read today (or actually the second one, but am quoting it first as it deals with the first part of the title “English”. Hey, it’s my blog and I can post it in any order I want, can’t I ???

Coming back, the Tehelka article [Link to article] talks about how English as a language has proved to be an empowering tool for various common men and women from various walks of life to improve their overall standard of living. From being a luxury sometime ago, English-medium education today is being viewed as an important necessity all over India today. The article cites examples of a survey of private schools in Hyderabad, a garbage collector from Delhi, a taxi driver in Mumbai, a Dalit writer, an educationist from Pune, and others to bring out the point that almost the entire country today considers English education as an important tool in equipping their children, the future generation for the future, which in their perception is going to be very ‘English-driven’, for lack of a better term.

The fact that English as a language is probably only around 2000 yrs old [Link to Wikipedia article] has come such a long way and today is universally accepted around the world as the common medium of communication, goes a long way to prove the Tehelka piece right. Wonder what all the so called ‘opponents of English’ and ‘supporters of mother tongue’ will have to say if and when they read this article


The second article [Link to article] (Warning: Really long and really old article from 1982) that I want to bring your attention to relates to De Beers and their almost 90 yr old monopoly on the Diamond distribution business. While all of us are aware (and women more so) that a diamond engagement ring is probably the best way for a man to propose to his loved one, how many of us know that this was not necessarily the case until the 1930s. It was only then that De Beers with the help of their advertising agency came up with this ad campaign which created the image of a diamond engagement ring being a symbol of everlasting love which created the famous by line “A diamond is forever”. This particular campaign went on to capture the imagination of the United States which was soon copied by Europe, Japan and the rest of the world.

The article provides great detail as to how De Beers the company went on to have a strangle-hold grip on the way diamonds were distributed and sold across the world and how they tightly controlled the demand of the gems so that the prices always remained high and they would make their profits on the same. Even when other diamond cartels were formed in Russia and Israel, the De Beers conglomerate proved savvy enough to win them over either by force or by negotiating them into their cartel. For a more brief version of the De Beers history read this article [Link to article] which ends with the bittersweet conclusion where the conglomerate has been bought over by its sole competitor as the family which ran it for so long is no longer interested in the business.

I personally had always wondered why diamonds had such bad resale value and this article answered all the questions about that. Wonder if there are similar stories for other precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, etc. I guess I will have to see if the web throws up similar articles for these as well.


For readers who saw the title and came here expecting movie reviews, visit these links instead 😀

English Vinglish [Wikipedia link]

Diamonds are forever [Wikipedia link]


Image Courtesy: Google Images search for “Queen Elizabeth diamonds” 😀

The Mahatma, the Movie and Mindsets

January 30th, Martyrs’ Day, the day The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi passed away. One of his favorite bhajans was

raghupati rāghav rājārām,

patit pāvan sītārām

sītārām, sītārām,

bhaj pyāre tū sītārām

īśvar allāh tero nām,

sab ko sanmati de bhagavān


Literally translated it means


Chief of the house of Raghu, Lord Rama,

Uplifters of those who have fallen, Sita and Rama,

Sita and Rama, Sita and Rama,

O beloved, praise Sita and Rama,

God and Allah are your names,

Bless everyone with this wisdom, Lord.


Such a nice and small poem which still holds complete relevance in this day and age. When The Mahatma sang this song during the Dandi Salt March, its popularity soared so much that it remains to be sung to this day all over India whenever anybody thinks of him.

That being said, it is quite ironical that today was the day I read these three news items –

  • The controversy caused by SRK’s article in The Outlook magazine, now hosted on NDTV [Link]
  • The controversy caused by the TN Govt over the release of Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam [Link]
  • The pre-emptive ban imposed on Salman Rushdie by the West Bengal Govt [Link]

All of this leads me to wonder just like Kamal Hassan did, do I want to live in this country whose constitution (law of the land) calls it a democratic secular republic. Well, we do have democracy at least in name, to the extent that all of us who are more than 18 yrs old can vote (that is, if we can find our names in the electoral rolls and if somebody else has already not voted in our names).

However, given these headlines and based on various conversations that I have had with well educated colleagues, friends, family members and everybody in general, I struggle to find even 1% of secularism in this country. All of us are so tied to our belief systems, our prejudices, our notions, our stereotypes of how various communities are, how people from these communities behave, etc.

Most of us seem to believe that the only way we can live in India is to judge people, events and base our reactions and lives accordingly. Nobody seems to be willing to be just a little more open-hearted, welcoming of dissonance, welcoming of disagreements and overall truly secular, in all sense of the word.

Wonder if it is just me who is frustrated at all that is happening right now, or are there more folks like me out there thinking similarly?

The end of role models


Being an avid quizzer right from my high school days, my earliest exposure to Lance Armstrong, the cyclist was the fact that he was the up and coming star of the sport (I am talking about the 1990s here, before he became the sporting superstar that he went on to become). I kept reading news here and there about how he was winning quite a few tournaments, and how he was well in the process of redefining the sport of cycling as a spectator sport.

By virtue of his achievements in the sport, Armstrong contributed to cycling becoming another sport which started enjoying a sizeable fan following. And the story of his comeback to cycling post his cancer treatment, and winning all those Tour De France events, well, that is the stuff that sporting legends and sports movie scripts are made of. His most famous and visible contribution to the world was The Livestrong  Foundation, which to this date has the following words in its manifesto – “We fight to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.”

Coming from somebody who is a survivor and not just any survivor but a multiple championship winning survivor in a tough sport, Lance Armstrong has always served as a role model to lots of youngsters the world over, and also as a very strong inspiration to all people fighting cancer across the world.

All this being said, the events over the past few months have cast a huge shadow over the aura of Armstrong. While it was the allegations of using performance enhancing drugs a few months ago, his public spat with the USADA and the WADA put a large shadow of doubt over the entire cycling community. The fact that he not only rejected these allegations outright, but also went on to blame all these authorities of trying to unjustly malign him struck me as quite funny. What took the cake was the fact that he even refused to fight his lifetime ban from cycling, the sport which had given him all that he has in his life today.

And yesterday, the news that he appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and supposedly confessed to engaging in the usage of performance enhancing drugs simply took the icon Lance Armstrong and converted him to a villain of sorts. While it might have been “acceptable” (and I use this word with caution) for a normal sportsperson to engage in this sort of behavior to gain an unfair advantage, the fact that somebody as inspirational, as influential, as iconic as Armstrong did this, and probably ran a huge operation to cover it up as well, makes it quite an unpardonable crime.

While the USADA, the WADA, courts and other people might sue Armstrong for his last dollar for having actively concealed his doping practices, who will answer for the millions of people who absolutely adored and idolized Armstrong for being their inspiration to fight cancer. The fact that he robbed them of inspiration, hope to succeed in life after cancer, who will take Armstrong to courts for that? Who will sue him for cheating a lot of people by pretending to be a role model for them?

The fact remains that Armstrong is just another in a long line of inspirational sportspersons who have ended up using public affection and public love for them wrongly (Hansie Cronje, Tiger Woods, Mohamed Azharuddin to name a few that I can think of immediately). All of these above mentioned people were clearly aware of the fact that they enjoyed public love and affection due to their achievements in the sporting arena. They clearly understood that they were in a position where their actions could influence the way their sports was viewed by the general public. They understood that they were role models for youngsters who followed their sport. But the fact that they still chose to break the rules is in my opinion, quite unpardonable.

While a normal individual like you and me can break rules (even that is unpardonable if you ask me), our scope of influence and control are only over a few people who actually know us. However, when public personalities, especially popular sportspersons break rules so unflinchingly, the wrong sort of message is sent out. And that is a tragedy for anybody who loves sport, and who enjoys sport based on the understanding that sports probably is the only place in the world where rules are respected and is participated in “sportingly” (for lack of a better term).

Gearing up for P.A.D season – A ready reckoner for subordinates



Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of the year again. It’s that time when all of us have to prepare for that inevitable ritual of our professional lives. It’s that time of the year when all of us have to brace ourselves to hear the truth, the absolute truth and nothing but the unavoidable, unadulterated, unbiased truth. It is Performance Appraisal Discussion (P.A.D) time!!!

While we are all aware that most PAD are just a formality which are undertaken by managers and subordinates to fulfill system requirements that mandate that an Appraisal Document has to be prepared, agreed upon and finalized on a random ERP tool (PeopleSoft in Cognizant’s case), we all allow ourselves to be kidded into believing that PADs can actually make any sort of difference in our professional lives and careers. All of us, managers and subordinates like to believe that meaningful PADs will result in cohesive relationships, meaningful goals, employee empowerment, enhanced sense of ownership of tasks, and all those various other wonderful things that the HR brochures, mailers and posters would have us believe. In our heart of hearts, all of us know that PADs are nothing more than just a mandatory requirement which in most cases results in managers buying subordinates a cup of coffee (some samosas or other snacks, if they are really in a good mood), a simple pat on the back and heartburn (ulcers as well in some cases) for all the parties involved.

Subordinates prepare their Appraisal Documents with all earnestness, seriousness, truthfulness (at least their version of the truth) truly believing that this is the one real chance that they get to put their point of view across to their managers and convince them of their ‘true worth’ to the team, project, the company and the world-at-large. Managers on the other hand read and review these Appraisal Documents with a pinch of salt (more like a bottle of salt) knowing fully well that subordinates tend to color the facts with a varied hue of adjectives and expressions such as “value added”, “extremely hard”, “beyond normal limits”, “over and above”, “above and beyond” to highlight their ‘achievements’ during the year.

While all readers of this blog are smart enough to figure out the results of the entire Performance Appraisal process, this post is more like a Ready Reckoner to all subordinates for all the necessary preparations that need to be done for a P.A.D itself.

1  – In the fortnight (or even the month) before the PAD is scheduled, subordinates must make it a point to come to office at least a good 5 mins before the manager arrives (enough time to visit the rest room, ruffle your hair to look like you have been in office since early morning or even overnight if you can manage to get that look).

2  – In addition to Point 1 above, make it a point not to iron your shirts and wear the same shirt more than once in a week. This adds to the ‘stayed overnight at office’ look.

3  – Ensure that your participation in team events, project events and company events is at an all time high. Even if you don’t do anything meaningful, volunteer to send out the mailers for all events. That way your manager’s mailbox will be flooded with mails from you for these events. Remember, you don’t have to do any actual work yourself, but you just need to copy/paste somebody else’s lovely mailer and send it from your mailbox, that’s all.

4  – Ensure that you get at least 2 people a day search for you in the office bay by calling out your name loud enough for your manager to hear. You might need to bribe your friends with some money to do this, or you might even need to steal their phone and leave a Post-It note asking them to scream out your name. This technique will leave the impression that you are somebody who is critical to the project and your absence from the bay can cause issues for the project.

5  – Ensure that you leave random print outs of important project related documents and other arbitrary papers in the printer every day before you leave office. This way when your manager makes his way to the printer, he will believe that you are working so hard that you don’t even have time to pick up important documents.

6  – Ensure that you have your lunch breaks and coffee breaks all sitting at your desk. This way your manager will believe that you are so busy that you are deigned to have a ‘working lunch’.

7  – Ensure that you stop travelling by personal vehicles and book the late night cabs back home every day. This will ensure that your manager has no doubts regarding what time you leave office every day. After all, he is not going to know that you have been busy playing ‘Angry Birds’ on your phone (versions available for Apple iOS and Android 2.2 upwards).

8  – Keep staring at items for so long that your eyes water and are red all the time. This gives the impression that you are sleep deprived and work really hard. In fact, this can also be achieved if you sleep so much that you look jaded all the time, but the trick is not to get caught sleeping in office.

In case none of the above points work out well for you, well you have no other choice but to pull your socks up and actually start performing well at your work in 2013 so that when the next PAD comes up, you have real talking points to make your case.

Image Courtesy: http://www.dilbert.com

‘Vicarious’ grand-parenting


We have all heard of parents living their lives ‘vicariously’ through their children, ie, parents trying to get their children to do everything that they couldn’t do when they were children. We can see numerous examples of this in India today, like parents forcing their kids to take up IIT JEE exams simply because they were not good enough to clear them and make it to the IITs when they were younger, parents forcing their kids to learn singing and dancing so that they can participate in and hopefully excel at the various reality shows on television, parents forcing their kids to join Cricket Coaching Camps in the anticipation that there just might be a budding Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli in their kid, the list goes on.

But then, how many of us have heard of grandparents living vicariously through their grandchildren’s lives!!! Case in point, the first thing that my dad said when he saw my lil one’s fingers on Day 1 – “She’s got such long lovely fingers. She can become a surgeon.” And this was before my daughter had even begun suckling at her mother’s breast and was all of 14 hrs old!!! Now I might be reading too much into my dad’s statements, but it goes on to show that my lil one’s grandparents have some unfulfilled wishes which even me (courtesy of being the only child) have not been able to satisfactorily fulfill so far. Given my dad’s first reaction at my daughter’s fingers, I am guessing becoming a doctor was somewhere in his list of unfulfilled wishes from me.

Now I have always had ‘working parents’ and as a result, most of my toddler years were handled by my maternal grandparents. While my mother did spend time with me in the mornings and the evenings, I am assuming most of this time was spent in ‘transactional activities’ such as feeding, bathing, sleeping, etc, rather than any real time spent by my mother in understanding my ‘real personality’. Not that I am saying that my parents don’t understand me, am just trying to make the point that they probably didn’t have the time to get to know the ‘real me’. I am not blaming them at all given that they had to put in the time at the office to ensure that they were able to support all my needs financially. I understand this a little more today given that no amount of money is enough to make me feel that I can provide for my wife and daughter financially, what with the increasing costs of education, and even normal things such as fruits which will enable my daughter to have good health.

With this background, it is quite clear that while my parents brought me up well, they probably have a few things which they wanted me to do and didn’t quite get the time or the inclination to teach me when I was younger to get me to do those things. So they go ahead and do the next best thing they can – start gradually influencing my toddler to show an interest in things which they feel she might be good at, for eg, buy her books so that she starts reading at a very young age, buy her educational toys so that she starts her stacking games earlier than other kids, etc. As if this wasn’t enough, they are also ensuring that they spoil her like mad (something they didn’t have the time to do with me when I was young) and cater to all her whims and fancies like giving her snacks (which me and my wife are somewhat against as we want her to avoid ‘junk food’ for as long as possible), show her TV (which once again me and my wife want to avoid for as long as possible).

While both my wife and me understand that some of these things come with the ‘grandparenting territory’, we are just about to formalize various rules and regulations which are ‘non-negotiable’ especially around what the toddler can be fed and how much TV time she gets in a day, etc. I guess some parts of us are also living ‘vicariously’ through our daughter by enforcing these rules for her.

What is the point of this long post which borders on a rant? The fact that I am moving back to Bangalore to live with my parents in around 3 months from now, the fact that this is the first time that my wife would have to live with her in-laws in 6 yrs of married life, the fact that at this point in time there are just too many differences in the way that my parents and my wife view life in general. This is something that is looming large in my head and something that I spend a lot of my time thinking about. I just had to get it out of the system and what better medium than this blog to do so.