Saturday, March 31, 2012

The sands of time

I wrote this two years ago. It's rather special, and today is the right time to share it once again with all of you!
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It was a call from my elder brother, a doctor himself, that alerted me to the possibility. It was a second call 10 minutes later that jolted me into action. I rushed to the hospital. And found my father on the ICU bed. He was no more.

On 31st of March 2002, I was on a routine visit to the Indore centre of Professional Tutorials. It was a Sunday, but an audit was overdue, and I was conducting it alongwith the entire team at the centre. Around 12:45pm, my mobile phone rang. Deep into the audit, it took me some rings before I took the call. "Come to the hospital, Dad is not well", said my brother from the other side. "Sure, I will", I said and continued with the audit, hoping to finish it in another 30 minutes. In just 10 minutes, the phone rang again and my brother, slightly more impatient this time round, said "Come NOW."

I rushed out of the office knowing fully well what that tone of voice could mean. And my worst fears were proven true when I entered the ICU of the hospital. My father was on the bed, and a doctor was desperately trying to arouse him from his sleep, pushing a big needle into his heart, with some medicine that's supposed to act as a life-safer in cardiac arrests. I realised that the time has come for me to realise what he had told me earlier on more than one occasions -"A day will come when you will have to realise that we all travel alone, and it is our duty to give happiness to as many as we can in this journey. We must give back to society much more than we take from it."

These were precisely the words I used while designing the obituary advt in next day's newspapers. I hope it gave him happiness that I remembered.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Indian GDP's explosive imbalance

Let truth prevail
It makes for an impressive headline across India's newspapers each year - "Services sector leads sectoral growth once again; clocks double-digit growth, pushes GDP above 7%".
The latest Economic Survey of India (2011-12) presented in March 2012 pegs the share of Services in India's GDP at a staggering 59%. Agriculture and Industry both account for the rest.

Such a figure not only makes a great headline, but creates a great comfort zone for our politicians. They love it. It gives them something to showcase, and hide the systemic faults. It creates a strong illusion that the entire economy is moving forward at a good pace. An illusion that somehow the great discomfort that stems from poor contributions from both the agriculture and industry sectors can be padded using the impressive growth figures of the services sector. And to top it, taxing this sector gives easy recourse to funds.

But the truth is far from this.

The truth is :
Among the three, the Services sector - by its very nature - is the poorest employer of people. And when such a sector starts dominating the GDP with the wild swagger that we see today, it's the most visible sign that a stage of imbalance has already been reached.

The risk of such an imbalance is clear : Large employment disparity, leading to social chaos. 

Trained manpower is in abundant shortage
India is a huge country, with present population nearing 120 crores (1.2 billion) people. Services sector at present does not employ more than 10-15% of the population. A huge 75% plus of India's working population works in its most unproductive sectors - agriculture and industry.

We cannot ever hope that the service sector will become the biggest employer, or a mass-rapid employer, because it needs "skilled" manpower, and those skills take time to develop; and it has been proven through many studies that the Indian mainstream education system has shamefully failed in staying apace with what corporates want today. Even the National Skills Development Mission cannot hope to remedy the situation because by the time its efforts will start paying off in a big way (if they ever), the imbalance will have tilted the ship over.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why reading is no longer a popular sport,
How do I start?
Talk to any young person and you realise that the one habit that has taken the maximum hit due to other temptations of the modern world is "reading".

It seems that the young have simply either given up reading, or have restricted themselves to the narrow niches of their professional needs. Broad, generalist readers are a diminishing community. If things go the way they are, it's a matter of time before a fitting RIP is written for this tribe.

Why is this happening? Some reasons I think are important -
  1. False illusion due to social media : Since a lot of youngsters spend a lot of time doing social media networking, there is a false sense of having done a lot of "reading" directly or indirectly through social media itself! Nothing could be far from the truth. The superficial, cursory and utterly peremptory scanning of the written content on Facebook or Twitter can hardly qualify as genuine reading. Still, many feel so. 
  2. Lack of peaceful reading time : The lifestyles of many do not allow clear reading time slots. There's just so much noise. The mobile radios, the iPods, the earplugs, the incessant chatter online... it kills the very concept of locking oneself in a corner of your home/room and dedicating some time to pure reading pleasure. This gradually develops into a pattern - people just give up reading. And when it is indeed available, the depth of silence feels too heavy.
  3. Strong negative spiral : Unfortunately, once you lock yourself into a negative pattern of habits like the one described above, there's little chance of breaking free. Partially because one does not realise it, and partially because there's the lack of a relevant shock, things continue the way they are. And deteriorate further. Reading is like tilling a land.. you stop and it degrades.
  4. Lack of inspiring seniors : College and schools do not inspire youngsters much when it comes to reading. Neither do seniors who can drive young people through sheer example. So a kind of societal stamp is acquired unknowingly and the bad habit of poor reading proliferates!
The damage that this does to young professionals is immense. Some pointers:
  • Utter lack of depth : many youngsters just do not understand issues as deeply as they should
  • Lack of confidence : scratch below the surface of claims being made, and you realise there's little gravamen below. It's positively scary
  • Poor decision making skills : the more we know about the world around us, the better we can connect the dots and move ahead in a more concrete fashion
All these are rather demoralising facts! But no damage is permanent. And you can do a lot to rebuild the edifice. Some simple suggestions:
  1. Visualise yourself making better decisions : think of yourself in a complicated decision making situation. And imagine that you knew a lot more about the world, its working components, human behaviour, the economy, the nations in turmoil, and so on. There's a fair chance that you will react much better to the challenges facing you.
  2. Keep a slot everyday : start small. Fix a slot of 10 minutes religiously, per day, that you'll devote only to yourself, sitting in a corner/on your study table, with serious reading stuff. Let this time slot grow slowly, gradually. There's no hurry.
  3. Cut down on your internet consumption and TV time : Try reducing your social media time, and the time you spend in front of the idiot box. While it is wrong to ask of anyone to eliminate TV from their schedules (given the amazingly high quality content that appears frequently on TV nowadays), there's a lot of sick and ordinary stuff that cuts into precious time you could devote to your self-development.
  4. Read what you like, first : In order to not get bogged down by stuff that does not interest you, read what you like, first. Don't get into reading things that do not instinctively interest you. As you grow in stature as a reader, your interests will grow too.
  5. Get into debates and discussions : Nothing stimulates your desire to read more than a pleasant experience of "showing-off" your knowledge in a discussion :)  I mean that in a positive and healthy way. So get into debates with intelligent people often. Talk about what's happening in the world - the Arab spring, the resurgence of oil and coal, the uncertainty of the Chinese economic miracle, the problems facing developing nations, gender equality, financial planning, etc. It'll stimulate and grow your existence manifold.
Reading was, and remains, the best self-development tool. Do not underestimate its importance. Start now - it's not too late. Invest slowly, steadily and let it work for you. All the best!

Here's a detailed analysis of an article on the same topic which appeared in a newspaper. Watch the session for some more insights. Enjoy! (more such sessions here)

Perhaps I should rephrase the title to "Why reading is no longer a popular sport - and what can be done about it"  :)