The Dreamliner

The recent excitement and fanfare around the arrival of the Dreamliner aircraft in India reminded me of the good old childhood days. The average Indian household was then deprived of most of the material luxuries (“durable goods”)  that we consider basic necessities today. The most sophisticated device that you could expect to find in the house was the radio or the cheaper handy version better known as the “transistor”. Around the late eighties and early nineties, scooters, televisions and refrigerators started entering the average Indian household. Their arrival was marked by huge celebrations. Friends, relatives and neighbours would all come rushing to take a first look of the new member of the family. Pujas, flowers and chants made the whole incident look like a festival!

I have clear memories of the day when the first television (TV in short) came to my “maama-ghar“. Ours was a joint family with 5 families living in a bungalow tucked away in the lap of the hills and forests on the Chota Nagpur Plateau. My grandfather was a physician who decided to set up his practice in the quaint hilly village of Silli in the tribal heartland of Bihar (now Jharkhand). The huge house was complete with mango, litchi, jack-fruit trees in the backyard and farmlands just outside the boundary with a row of hillocks a few hundred meters away.

It was the first TV in the town! It had to be an event! We knew since morning that the TV was supposed to reach home around evening. It was to be bought from Ranchi (the current capital city of Jharkhand) which was some 55 km away but the road had to cut through the hills and dense forests and often took longer than expected to cover the same distance. The entire town was waiting with bated breath for the TV to come. Several times during the day, our neighbours from the tribal village came down asking if the TV had already come. Kids of all ages lined up close to the house as evening came close. The sun slowly set and darkness fell but nobody would move. It grew darker and people slowly started drifting back to their huts.

Much later the sound of vehicle horn was heard and everybody rushed out of the house. The kids in the house zipped across the large playground in front of the house to the other side to see the van even before it reached the house. The sky blue “Matador” van came tumbling down the slope of the playground, chased by kids of various sizes and came to a halt at the doorstep. Children howled in excitement, the women of the house struggled to keep their happiness in control and the entire neighborhood stood waiting with glistening eyes for the TV to be taken out from the van.

The TV did finally come out and it was set up in the largest room of the house. The antennae was fitted on a long wooden stick, connected to the nearest socket board and then the TV flickered on. Sweets were distributed and the doors of the room were opened wide for everybody in the neighborhood to come in. Almost everybody in the small town came down to the extent that I almost felt that the jackals, elephants and the leopards in the nearby forest would also come down to witness the euphoria.

For about 10 years or so since then, the house was open to neighbours from the nearby tribal hamlets to watch TV with us. The TV room was always jam packed. So much so that the actual inhabitants of the house barely found a place to sit. People of different age groups always made sure that they catch up  on the “Chitrahar” and the Sunday movies. Whenever electricity failed (which it often did), batteries were put to use! One of my uncles had a car battery charging unit. I guess the whatever he made in that business (if not more) was used up in charging the batteries for the TV.

India has changed so much since then. Bringing a TV or a refrigerator home is no longer a marquee event. We don’t celebrate them. Somewhere those big things in our life have today become obvious and bland. Is this a sign of development or lost ability to celebrate new things in life. The arrival of the Dreamliner proves that we can still celebrate a new marvel like we did in the past or may be not?

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“To laugh often and much…

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Credit bureau” for air travellers

Some people just don’t want to switch off their mobile phones when the flight is about to take off. The same guys happen to be equally keen on switching on their mobile phones (if at all, they have switched them off!) even before the flight touches down. Some others feel that putting on the seat belt is against the fundamental right to freedom. Even if they do put them on, after “intense” insistence from the cabin crew, they do ensure that they unlock it and spring up on their feet even while the wobbly flight is finding its way to a stable parking bay. There are a few others who take immense pleasure in poking the assistance button  every now and then for inane requests.

I was wondering if we could have a credit bureau kind of a thing where you could report flight “behaviour” of passengers on a compulsory basis and use the flight behaviour score (a la Cibil, FICO, Equifax, etc.) to decide the premium that the concerned person should pay to board another flight.

Such a bureau would record details of the passenger behaviour as reported by the cabin/ground crew of the airline companies and give scores. So, if you are hell bent on yapping or texting away when the flight is about to take off, you get a negative score. Similarly, if you don’t understand that you need to keep your seat back upright and somebody has to tell you five times to do so, you get another round of negative scores.

So, with a score of 300 you can bid goodbye to flying for a period of atleast 2 years. The chronic “defaulters” can then easily be kept off the “access to airline services”.

One more question, has anybody done any research on why the same people who are incredibly fast in getting up immediately after touch down (and yanking off the oversized baggages from the overhead lockers) are the same people who just dont want to get off the airstairs when they are climbing it down?

Enjoy your festivals!

Why are festivals important?
A. It gives you the excuse to do things you dont generally do everyday. Meaning it gives your brain the rest from usual work to help you refocus.
B. It gives you an excuse to bump into people you never met/spoke to before.
C. It gives you an opportunity to expose yourself to good old “quaint” ideas that you completely disregard in your day to day life.

In brief, celebrate festivals!! (off course,once in a while.)

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows”

Possibly the best motivational speech in the history of cinema: Courtesy – Rocky Balboa.

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!

100 ml tel aur thodi si sharab

Children in this distant village in Odisha manage to open their books even after sunset. Most kids in cities do so, for one reason- complete some ‘homework’. They are able to do so because their is abundant light, of a CFL or regular tubelights/bulbs. The children i came across in this village neither had homework to finish nor any light that they could make use of. So, it is all the more surprising that they sit down and read and solve math problems at night.

The children have been attending pre/post school classes that help them to bridge learning deficits that are common at their age. The classes have also filled a void, rather a thirst, of knowing more, comprehending the world and doing things they have never done before. Perhaps that is the reason these kids attend the ‘extra’ class, then go to their school and get back to books once the day says good night.

Reading books at night wasn’t really possible for them, till some months back. Now the villagers manage to light a few lamps and help their children spend some quality time with books. These lamps are not lit by oil alone, it is the ability of women and men to believe ‘that there is something  in them superior to their circumstances’. Some village women started a donation drive where 100 millilitre kerosene was collected form each house and the contributions have not been an one-ff event. They also realized that such small contributions can make a significant difference for each child and the next target was liquor. The logic was simple- if the village men can give up liquor, even for2-3 days in a week, they can save sizeable amount of money that can be routed to lamps and more oil.

Do they “need” us?

A friend, who is doing some great work in the space of delivering quality healthcare to remote rural customers, narrated a story of how she went to meet an old lady whose medical tests revealed that she had a high risk of cardiovascular disease but when suggested regular monitoring and diet restrictions,the old lady said that she is doing absolutely fine and that  she does her daily chores without any problem!  Even her family thinks she is fine.

My friend asks, do they need our “help” at all? Who are we to them? Are we being forceful ? What is their purpose and what is ours? A good set of questions for all those “BoP enthusiasts”. (I admit I am not very impressed with the way in which the term BoP is used by most “experts” today.A clear urge to sound “cool”. For all that you can see, I avoid using the term BoP. But then, who cares if a minnow like me is not impressed?)

Ok, coming back to the topic. I face a similar situation. In the work that I do, we sell cattle insurance, purified drinking water, smoke free stoves, all of which, by all means have little or no felt need amongst our existing remote rural customers. If need for healthcare is not felt, it is obvious that the same people will not value any of the things we are selling.

I hav a very different analogy for this. Imagine the world before iPods. People were happy with normal MP3 players and could never believe that hearing experience could be better. Even if they knew that hearing experience could be better, they couldn’t justify spending the exhorbitant amount for ipod. They said, whatever quality the normal MP3 s offer, is good enough and that there isn’t any problem with that quality of listening.

Then some of the rich brats started purchasing iPods either because they appreciated better quality of  sound/design or because they wanted to be a part of the elite tribe that owned sleek,stylish and expensive ipods. Slowly, more and more people wanted to buy iPods and soon a lot of the “normal MP3 people” now wanted to buy the ipod! They were suddenly dissatisfied with the sound quality and clumy shapes of the normal mp3 players. After a while, iPods became the defacto music player for the great “discerning” middle class. The “normal MP3 people” have  now started seeing and appreciating the better quality of sound/design of the iPod.

I believe, the same route has to be followed for the things like cattle insurance, purified water, quality healthcare and smokeless stoves (and possibly even information). This means we have to use a sly marketing plan to first break in to the “territory of aceeptability” of those who can spend and then ensure that the “fad” becomes a normal way of life. I must point out here that, aside from the great marketing, iPods are inherently a great product. It has a great sound quality and a brilliantly done design. This means that there has to be an underlying benefit in what you are trying to provide. The product and service quality has to be brilliant if not flawless.

I know I sound like a dirty capitalist (and it might be too simplistic to compare healthcare to iPods) but some where back of the mind I know that the stuff that I want them to purchase (healthcare, cattle insurance, purified drinking water, smokeless stoves) has some underlying benefit which would positively affect lives. Customer “education” as a way of “changing” habits and adopting better products/practices has proven to be expensive and fairly unsuccessful. We have to be sly. Not emotional. Anybody is free to argue against what I say. Opinions invited.

Off course, I do not want a moral debate on what should be available for free and what the job of the state  (a la healthcare, primary education, market information)is to provide. Let us get real and accept the fact that the state run machinery has not been able to do a good job of making these available. However, you are free to question whether  better risk mitigants like healthcare, purified water, smoke-less stoves and better risk transfer mechanisms insurance are needed at all!

Who rules the world???

The world is constituted of around 7 billion people, their activities and the environment around them. They all belong to different traditions, different cultures and different affiliations. We can not assume that each one of us think on the same line, be equally motivated, and be self-ruled and self-governed. Few people are entrusted to facilitate the affairs of the world be it government or business affairs.
These individuals get their legitimacy to take decisions on behalf of the greater number of people on the basis on set procedures and rules. This body of rules and procedures is called an institution. Various institution mechanism give them powers to take decisions, to act on them and to be accountable for them. Degree of accountability might vary based on the soundness of the institutional mechanism put up. It is also possible that the leader can dominate the decision making but this discretion can be curtailed by way of putting better mechanisms. For example, the president of USA can be powerful and dominant persona but he can not act on his whims and fancies without the approval of senate. And senate is also accountable to people as well as liable for judicial review by the Federal court.
Also, we see that even absolute dictators and military rulers try to get the power and legitimacy through putting up institutional mechanism. Be it National Defence Council led by Kim Jong-il of North Korea or be it General Pervez Mushraf of Pakistan.
In business organizations also, CEO or the chairman is accountable to the body of directors. And in turn get legitimacy from the shareholders. They are also accountable to the government regulations and rule of Law.
Building institution is a continuous process and it keeps on improving based on the feedback and experiences. Like, after global financial meltdown USA has passed Financial Liability Act f 2009 which ensures better regulation and credit rating of financial institution. Now, when it is regulated by a statute, no individual can influence discriminately.
So we can fairly conclude from above arguments that though few individuals are dominating the decision making in the world today, we can curb their discretion through putting up better and stronger institutional mechanisms.