Desh Badal Raha Hai?

Recently I had to get Import Export Code (IEC) for two private investment companies that I handle. Long back, if I recall correctly I had applied for IEC in late 90’s. It used to be a small process but I was then working out of an industrial town 100 Kms away from Madras and with very dicey communications.

The one challenge used to be to get a letter from Bank, which again was 30 Kms away. After locating the latest version of the form and the draft letter and after negotiating with the bank, we would ultimately get the letter. It was a small ordeal just to register.

Now with internet connectivity and the e-governance model in place for some time things have improved considerably. The form is available online. But the server of DGFT (Chennai?) turned out to be extremely slow. Most cumbersome procedures like bank letter has been dispensed with. Scanned copy of a cancelled cheque, only rider (necessary) being that the cheque has to have the name of the account holder pre-printed can be uploaded.

But the real challenge was the digital signature. While we routinely affix digital signatures for MCA and Income Tax purposes, we took nearly a week to solve the intricacies of DGFT site. The problem was the server was using an out-dated version of windows and equally out-dated version of Java. Then the next challenge. After a two day gap I kept verifying the site but it just said that the form had not been uploaded. Fortunately my office is just opposite the Chennai DGFT and I could visit them once daily. But after a week I became frustrated. More than 2 weeks had gone since I started the process.

Out of sheer desperation I tweeted to MoS Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman very late on a Friday evening. There was no response to my tweet. But surprisingly, on Sunday evening I received a tweet from DGFT, Delhi with request to send details to them by mail. I did so on Sunday evening itself. Monday was a holiday on account of Ganesh Chaturthi. Conditioned to Government departments working slow, I checked the site only on Wednesday. To my pleasant surprise the forms had been cleared on Tuesday. Unfortunately, in one case I had given different bank accounts in different places in case of one company and the form was rejected for that company.

My ordeal started again. I had to struggle for more than 10 days now to affix the digital signature. Having crossed that barrier, I was overwhelmed by what I thought would be the bigger barrier. But to my most pleasant surprise, the next day morning I received an email confirmation that the form had been accepted and IEC generated. My next worry was that the IEC had to be updated with DGFT Delhi and the Customs portal. But again by evening both had happened.

I could see a visible transformation in a matter of a month in the way things were handled. It is easy to blame the Government for every minor fault. And certainly things could be better. But what we need to realise is that Government consists of people like you and me. They cannot be better than us.

We need to improve as a society, as a nation.

I realise that there is a leadership in place that will reciprocate it.

Mera desh badal raha hai!

PS: Thanks to Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman and few others who made this possible

To Err is Human, to Forgive…..

The title is a poor translation of the original thirukural I had in mind. The one that i

  • இன்னா செய்தாரை ஒறுத்தல் அவர் நாண நன்னயம் செய்து விடல் (திருக்குறள்)

A rough translation would be “Make a wrong doer feel shy, by doing him a favour.”

This is what many would advice us. Most books on human nature would parrot that.

But not the Hindu Scriptures. If I remember right this story is from the Mahabarata.

A King had a parrot which was a dear friend to him. In time the king had a son and so did the parrot. Though the younger ones too were friends, they were obviously immature considering their age. One day the King’s son in a playful mood kills the Parrotchick. The elder parrot seeing the dead bird, in a moment of anger, pecks at the eyes of the prince making him blind. The King when he comes to know all the turn of events apologises to the parrot and tells it – now that you have had your revenge, we should start our relationship fresh forgetting the past.

The parrot replied – while I appreciate your large heartedness, I would like to leave the palace. The King taken back begged the parrot saying but we both have been good to each other and you have had your revenge. The Bird replied – Human Nature is such it cannot be even. Later when you see your son blinded, you might lose your maturity and give way to anger. All said and done, I have harmed your son and it is bound to hurt you at some point in future.

The parrot left the palace despite the sincere pleadings from the king.

Why I relate this story to the Kural is because of this – It is fine to say “To forgive is divine.” But in real life what happens is both the initial transgressor and the person who magnanimously forgives would carry the burden with them. It would always weigh on each other’s minds later.

I am not saying that we should not forgive others for their errors but just that we should be wary of the effect this would have on the future relationship. It is an Hobson’s choice in reality.

Men and Ideas that changed my Life – Gehrayee

In the early 80’s DD used to air award winning feature films from different languages in a particular slot. There was a film that was produced in 1980 and aired probably in 1983 / 84 when I was around 14 that has been on mind and shaped my reactions all my life.

It is the film Gehrayee. Anant Nag, Dr. Shreeram Lagoo, Amrish Puri… The film had a cast of good and steady actors. But it became famous for the wrong reasons.

The short story line is – There is a middle class family in the town – Father, Mother, elder brother and sister in early teens. Suddenly the girl starts acting weird. They try out all kinds of solutions including God Men. One of them, Amrish Puri tries to sexually exploit the girl. The scenes were normal by today’s standards but to an India in Victorian era, they became the most important feature of the film.

May be that was why I too saw the film. But at the end what stood in my mind was the “moral” of the story – A tenant farmer in the plantation owned by the family is agitated because the land was to be sold off. He resorts to black magic.  The family solves the issue with the help of a good “exorcist”. But then the son feels his sister was targeted unfairly. He tries to find out why the tenant targeted his innocent sister.

His actions get him into a situation where he becomes the victim of the black magic. The movie ends here. You can see it on YouTube here.

Normally we expect the world to be fair to us. That is one of the most impossible expectation. But in our innocence (charitable view) or self centeredness (brutal honesty) we expect “fairness” and in the absence of that “Retribution”.

When ever I get into such a situation – I keep reminding myself of this movie – If necessary I go to wikipedia and read the synopsis.

If Life throws lemons at you learn to make lemonade from the. Don’t try to hit back.

Men and Ideas that changed my Life – Trust but Verify

Science tells us we tend to superimpose our believes into our memories – that we remember things that happened say when we were 4 but the truth is that later talks about them get super imposed into our memory. I have no way of verifying that but implicitly trust it as it makes sense.

One of my earliest friends with whom I am still in touch – thanks to his efforts – is Shankar Venkatraman. Don’t know if he would like being named. We studied together in school but went to different colleges. I did my CA and he went to IIM-A and we both landed up in Bombay around the same time 1992.

1992 was the worst year for Bombay. First very late rains. Started only in End July. Then the Babri Riots and later the bomb blasts in 1993. There were many romors that used to float around. Very nasty and at times fatal too.

One of such rumours was the death of Morarji Desai. I remember telling that to Shankar and he was furious that I was spreading such rumours. That is one conversation I remember nearly 23 years later.

It has become an habit with me to verify from independent sources any news. One reason I hardly trust wikipedia.

It is not just about news but also about work in office by a colleague or say what your wife / son does. Trust them to do it right but also verify.

A word of caution – Verifying sometimes could be like walking on knife’s edge. It can get people to think that you do not trust them. And if they get caught when you verify – remember to give them an honourable exit out of the tricky situation

Men and Ideas that changed my Life – Honourable Exit

When I did my Articles (Practical training for CA) I worked in a firm that was run by 2 brothers. The eldest was technically much more knowledgeable and competent but the younger was more humane.

I practically did all my work with the elder and it has helped me to this date. It has been 23 years since I completed the training but I can relate every positive aspect of my ability to those 3 short years I worked there.

But it is about the younger brother with whom I had very little interaction that I want to write about – his favourite term “give others an honourable exit”. Something I keep telling my colleagues in different words. We generally have an habit of pushing people to a corner in arguments. If only we had the ability to give our “opponents” the space to wriggle out and agree with us without offending their egos.

The past week I must have repeated this a few times, like I have done it many more times over my career to my Juniors – If i am wrong, I say, 2 + 2 is 5, don’t tell me immediately “You fool, 2 + 2 is 4”. Give me some time, the say, “Sir, May be when you studied 2 + 2 was 5, but with inflation now it has come down to 4”.

Jokes apart, what I mean is when a team member with whom you are working makes a mistake, the immediate reaction is to point it out. But this hurts his ego. He waits for an opportunity to get back. But on the other hand if this is gently broken, he would gladly accept his mistake and move on.

If this is true for smaller things, imagine how relevant it would be for major things. It is this attitude of mutual accommodation that creates “Win – Win” situations when major entities seemingly like cheese and chalk coming together and pulling off a successful partnership.

Men & Ideas that changed my life – Dedication

I have a maternal uncle who used to work for P & T – Posts and Telegraphs. Not many in the current generation would have even heard of this department. There was a time when Posts and telecommunications were together. My uncle was an engineer who joined this department in early sixties. He used to work mostly in sites hundreds of miles away from his family. He was not a very well off man and had a reasonably large family. So he would be worried whether his salary was credited to his account by the due date. He would call the office from the god forsaken sites he was working in and would invariably find that the relevant clerk had gone out to have chai or had gone home early or was yet to come into office. But his saviour would be an unconnected man who was not even dealing with salaries. But he would immediately respond – “Varadharajan? Employee no:…. Your salary has been credited on …….”. My uncle would say every office has one *Fool* like this. All office run because of such fools who dedicate their lives to the organisation and the people who work with them.

My uncle is not the only person who has mentioned this. I have a schoolmate who is a successful auditor. He comes from a family of auditors but his father was not one. So he was denied an entry into this old firm. He worked his way up from nothing to a very successful career. He used to quote one of his uncles – behind every successful turn around story there is one man who has spent his entire life. You look at any successful organisation, you will find one man silently slogging and ensuring the success of that organisation. When an organisation does well and has become successful it will attract lot of talent but it is those dedicated individuals who may not be very flashy who build a successful organisation from scratch.

Getting back to my uncle and his stories, the instant experts on social media especially Twitter always remind me of this story of his – In one of his earliest projects, he had to make an estimate of various requirements. One of those was of cotton waste for wiping hands equipments of oil and grease while erecting. One helpful assistant told him to estimate it at 1/2 a % of the project cost, a reasonable estimate in his view.

Few days later my uncle found scores of lorries with huge loads in their back standing outside the site. What my uncle found out about them stunned him. The purchase department thought it wise to buy all the requirements at one go. The entire cotton waste overestimated may be few hundred times was bought at one go and delivered. He had a very tough time storing and safeguarding the highly inflammable material over the next couple of years of that project.

On a serious note, look around your organisation. You will find a person who is not flashy, not the most successful but holds the team together. Acknowledge his contribution. (S)He does not care for the money. It is this acknowledgement that they long for.

Preamble to a controversy

Recently I was reminded of a person who used to work as a telephone operator in a large factory. Those were the days of manual exchanges and the factory had around 10,000 employees. So naturally the telephone operator had to filter lots of calls and also be brusque with most users. So soon he was called Executive Director – Telephones. The post of Executive Director was the highest post in the factory.

I used to say this as an apocryphal tale – a disgruntled office boy called as Executive Director – Office Services. His job profile does not change. That people treat him like dirt doesn’t change. Not many even remember his name. Or if they remember, call him by name. But his hurt feelings can be assuaged by a simple name change – from Office boy to Executive Director – Office Services.

This has nothing to do with changing India from a sovereign democratic republic to a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic.