the no-nonsense space

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Coach ki khoj

Its the most high profile sporting headhunts ever witnessed in India. The most important episode of Coach ki khoj was today being played uot in delhi. The hopefuls were suitably dressed, and mouthed all the correct phrases when chased down by the pack of overzealous sports journalists. Greg Chappel, who going by the media buzz is the hot favourite looked like an accomplished, yet frugal CEO of an English life insurance firm walking into a roomful of investment bankers, trying to close a deal to his and only his advantage. Given the amount he thinks about the game, and his reputation as a master theoretian/tactician Chappel walked into Taj Palace in a crisp, white striped shirt and black trousers, carrying (what else) a laptop. Chappel tried his best not to pay attention to the waiting mediapersons who were almost beseeching him to say something that would remotely make a good copy. His is gait, still head and unwavering focus suggested that he could be walking upto the crease to face a new ball attack led by Holding and Roberts and not a bunch of slightly slower-in-pace Indians like Gavaskar, Venkatraghavan, and Ravi Shastri.
I followed him from the lobby, down the escalator through to the hall where he was to be interviewed. With atleast 10,000 pictures clicked in 100 seconds, Chappel could be forgiven, if for minute he thought he was Russel Crowe walking down to Bondi beach.

The banquet halls at Taj Palace have played host to some of the most powerful and rich businessfolk and politicians in India and around the world, but this interview was something else. Afterall it was, in a big big way, going to decide the Gross National Happiness of the country. Several manhours, lives, hours of nightly slumber, investor confidence, TRP ratings and resultantly, crores of rupees could be lost if the three gentlemen sitting in the hot seat at this Delhi Hotel misjudged this catch (forgive the bad pun).

Chappel managed a plastic smile, but TomMoody let it be known that wasn't to be disturbed. Eyes on the ball; right from the time the bowler runs in. Simpson would have been proud.

Sitting in the lobby I was praying that my interview subject for the day--the director of executive compensation practice at a global consultancy--was delayed further as another applicant Desmond Haynes swaggered in.
And what a contrast he was to the businesslike Aussies with is glistening bald head black suit a blue tie. When I walked up to him along with a couple of other sports journalist with a hello-Desmond I'm so-and-so, he instantly warmed up as if we were long-lost friends who shared the dressing room. "Hey maan howwayu dooin," he chirped.
Haynes was perhaps attending the most important interview post his cricketing life (or may be its us Indians who're taking this whole damn thing too seriously) but it was almost as if he was here in india to attend a reunion bash.
This carefree attitude was perhaps the leitmotiff of the West Indies cricket back in the 1980s when talent came in abundance. I asked Haynes pointing to his bag which presumably had a laptop which had a powerpoint presentation, "so what do you have in it?" "Somethin Mr. wright didn't have." And he broke into a laughter which could have resonated right down to Wellington, or wherever Mr Right was strumming his guitar. and haynes let that killer laughter out on three more occasions--once even getting the attention of the garrulous Mr. rahul bajaj who was trying to check out and settle his bills.
Perhaps the West Indians need no invitation to talk. Haynes went on about the long flight from Barbados, the sad state of cricketing affairs in this homeland, and why he'd not be queueing up for the same job in the West Indies. It was great while the conversation lasted, but I wondered if the seemingly happy-go-lucky opener was the best thing for Indian team whose work ethics is still not up there, bar a few Individuals. But then again appearences can be deceptive.

Unfortunately, my time had run out and I had to do the most exciting bit of my days work which involved talking about ESOPs and why CEO salaries in Europe and America grew under 5 per cent last.

My friends in the fraternity tell me that Mohinder paaji spent the whole of last night learning to boot a laptop and operate PPoint, now that's it's become a neccessity. Amarnath undoubtedly has the cricketing pedigree and has exhibited great gusto on the field to sway the opinion of M/S gavaskar and shastri, but he sadly lacks the vision to lead a side consisting individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. I once heard him (not read, mind you) in an interview proclaiming that Maharastrians and North Indians were genetically blessed with fighting abilities, and the much vaunted "killer instinct", and to prove his point he cited examples such as guru gobind singh and Chhatrapati shivaji!! This was sometime in 1996 on a now defunct TV channel promoted by hindustan Times. Wouldn't that qualify as a racial remark? when Kumble bowled against Lara with a broken jaw held together by heavy bandage in Antigua in 2001, the first thing that occured to me was to can the footage and send it across to the Amarnath household in Delhi. Punjabi myopia, did yo say?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Model Mahatma

K~'s first piece for Hindustan Times--something I'm really really proud of!! The turn of phrases are beautiful..........

Phoenix, Arizona (US), March 19, 2005|15:34 IST
A small, scrawny man in a dhoti unhurriedly climbs the steps of a hut. He sits down on the hard floor of a severely frugal room, and then he smiles - into a web cam.

Suddenly that smile is transported from an austere ashram in Ahmedabad to a giant LCD in Times Square; a cell phone in Rome; a flat screen in France; a laptop in London. Millions of people all over the world listen, mesmerised, as a trembling voice spreads the message of truth and love, barely audible amid the thunder of applause.

The aura is electrifying. Telecom Italia has found a compelling spokesman - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

'Telecom Italia Gandhi', a 60-second advertisement that recently won the Epica Awards, Europe's premier creative awards, has just started airing in Italy. The spot closes with an interesting inquiry, "Imagine the world today if he could have communicated like this". This simple statement, however, triggers a slew of complex issues.

If Gandhi were born into this mind-boggling plethora of media choices would he really have communicated any better? Could he have touched the minds of edgy megalomaniacs through cell phones, palm pilots, blogs and podcasters? Would modern means of mass communication amplify his message or dilute it?

It is somehow hard to imagine Gandhism unscathed by the mockery of late night comics. It is impossible to visualize the mahatma pausing for commercial breaks, getting powdered for the camera, or sharing prime time with Brittney Spears' antics and Aishwarya Rai's giggles.

Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are present day inheritors of the Gandhian tradition. However, in this frenetic age of information explosion their message too is buried under debris of pluralistic ideologies and a million messages clamouring for attention. All three have access to a surfeit of multimedia and yet their sphere of influence is marginalized. Burma still bristles with violence, Tibetans live on in exile, and Africa continues to burn.

Gandhi, undoubtedly, is considered one of the most effective communicators of the 20th century, but his brand of journalism belongs to an era untouched by television or Internet. His lure lies in the mystique of austerity. His weapon is his message not his medium.

Gandhi was journalist when idealists, not advertisers, ran newspapers. In a public career that spanned nearly four decades, he edited six journals. None, including Harijan and Navajivan, made profit or boasted a circulation of more than a few thousand copies. Yet such was the power of his message that people flocked in thousands just to hear him speak. Camera did not make Gandhi look good, his rigorous brand of asceticism did.

Gandhi is up for grabs but nonviolence is not the reason. As Salman Rushdie puts it, "He has become abstract, ahistorical, postmodern, no longer a man in and of his time but a freeloading concept, a part of the available stock of cultural symbols, an image that can be borrowed, used, distorted, reinvented to fit many different purposes..."

In these sloganeering times, few people really pause to ponder the true nature of Gandhi's legacy. It was his bold vision and conviction that accelerated India's struggle for Independence. It was his charisma and leadership that inspired confidence in a country riddled with two centuries of subjugation. Seventy-five years ago this extraordinary man walked 325 kilometers from Sabarmati to Dandi just to defy the might of the British with a handful of salt. Today, he is modeling for brands like Apple Macintosh and Telecom Italia.

Such is the sway of mega bucks. Even the saintliest of the dead can be invoked from history to sell big brands. Gandhi's principles do not count any more, his maverick image does. Ironically his message has been packaged to fall in line with the corporate philosophy of consumerism. His brand image is now protected and marketed by US-based CMG Worldwide Inc, whose roster of deceased celebrities includes matinee idols like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Any cause or company seeking to use the image of India's prophet of abstinence now needs permission from the consumer capital of the world.

Half a century ago Gandhi was a brand unto himself, a communicator powerful enough to be his own medium. Today he is a coveted salesman for cash-flush corporations. His homespun dhoti, trademark walking stick, and round spectacles are curios from a bygone age. Satyagraha and ahimsa: These are words high school kids reluctantly mug up for a history exam. We have never needed a Gandhi more, and yet, the only Gandhi we know is a votary for consumerism.

"Out of my ashes, many more Gandhis will rise," said Mahatma Gandhi. Today, his prophetic words have acquired a paradoxical ring – many more Gandhis have risen – variously packaged as "Telecom Italia Gandhi" and "Apple Gandhi." It is time to claim our mahatma from the market and give him back to the masses. That is where he is held sacred, that is where he truly belongs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Pronab's Param Veer Charkra

I don't know if this has happened to Pranab Mukherjee in his distinguished half-a-decade long career as a congressman, but undoubtedly its a medal he can wear with as much pride as Steve Waugh adorns his baggy green. Pronab da now joins a veritable gallery of congress superstars (Mani Shankar Iyer, former TNCC president Tindivanam Ramamurthy, B Janardhana Poojary and K.Karunakaran to name a few) who have either been roughed up or had their dhotis/veshtis removed in public by their own partymen. Satyamurthy Bhavan in Chennai might have hd the largest share of such incidents among all congress offices (yes the ones where they all sit on white gaddis, resting on white pilliows, wearing white caps). But interestingly the "Hindoo" nationalist paper Pioneer reported that "according to sources, Pronab Da gave back as good as he got". The dimunitive congressman whose cheeks grow redlier-redlier by each passing day was unruffled and is reported to have responded thus: eet ees ane unphortunate insident. But such ebhents do take place in any democratic saet-up. Who can agre with the Defence Minister. After all, Our Lady of Secular Church is the heart and soul of our democracy.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Company Result

Manmohan Singh is a modern Prime Minister. His vision to transform Mumbai into Shanghai made it to the front pages of every newspaper in the country. He has even instructed his partymen and ministers not to take out newspaper ads to highlight their achievements in the last one year.

Now, corporate governance seems to be preoccupying his mind. In true CEO-style Dr Singh will present the government's report card, much like a quarterly statement of results, to the country's board of directors chaired by Sonia Gandhi. But the shareholders still are not very clear if she is the executive or the non-executive chairperson. The party she leads would have you believe that Sonia's role clearly is that of a non-executive chairman, just as the Burmans, Munjals and Bajajs insist that the show is run by professional managers. The Sarbanes-Oxley inspired clause 49 of the listing agreement, which is yet to come into effect, puts the onus of corporate vigilance squarely on independent directors. In corporate India, independent directors are mostly family and friends of the promoters. But if the promoter or his Harvard-educated son happen to bump into Poonam Barua of Conference Board, an independent director is likely to be inducted into the board. It just takes a couple of quarters for the fad to disappear, or for the IDs to become pushovers.

Unfortunately for Dr. Singh, the self appointed IDs on the country's board, the Left has been anything but a pushover. Boardroom vigilance has been taken a step further. The problem for the CEO is that IDs are refusing to ratify the quarterly results leave alone attending the post board meeting party.

To uphold the spirit of corporate governance Dr Singh and his managers would perhaps lower the company's earnings projection substantially for the next review period, and reiterate the committment for big ticket bonus, golden handshake, and grand housing schemes for even the most underperforming employees. Bottomline growth be damned. That would ensure IDs' sign on the dotted line, their stay for a celebratory kulhar of chai, and ofcourse a we-stand-united photo-op with all concerned flashing a V-sign. Thankfully our modern CEO doesn't have to bother too much about the stock market.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The 8 per cent problem

Pablo's uncle has called me home for dinner. But even at 8.30 PM my sometimes-unreasonable boss refuses to let me go. have to sit around and wait for the changes he'd make on some inconsequential Indo-Swiss partnership supplement. Crackpot Kalyan does some back-of-the-envelope calculations to tell me that most journalists waste upto 8 per cent of thier lives sitting in office doing absolutely nothing (that's even excluding the many chai-cigarette breaks that we take).

The weather was good for a brief while this evening. Looked like it would rain and wanted to take a walk in JNU, preferably with Pablo in tow. But that's not to be. Can i ever go back home at 7??

Thursday, May 12, 2005

the change conundrum

I'm swayed so easily. It seems so easy to put me in an awkward position. This whole thing is guilting me badly. I'll perhaps never be a good journalist until I learn to put my foot down.

Second half slumber

Can't seem to stay awake beyond half-time these days. Such a pity the Gunners socked in six more when I was in dreamland. The same happened the night before as Chelsea scored twice in the second half. The 1-2 touch football from arsenal was amazing to watch. I think if they get their back four right, there would be no stopping them next season. Get rid of the insipid anglo-french brigade of Toure, Sendoros, Cygan, Clichy, Sol campbell and Ashley cole, and get Van de Saar from Fulham and they'll have a team that could topple the Blues. I seriously think Wengers Team has what it takes for continental success. Mark my words Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern will be the teams to watch next year. Anyway it's a good sign that Im hitting the sack as early as 1.45 Am.

Blogging after a loooooooong time, infact just my second post after the forgettable "lead-blog". I'm kind of back to the fold thanks to Uma M-D, Rangarajan and the rest. But i've not changed my mind on writing that scathing piece on this egoistic tribe sometime very soon. Maybe that'll be my debut story at AB-10!!

Wonder why Ranga was sounding so weighed down. Hope everthing's alrite. Cant wait to see Harini in action, and missing Pablo big time.