Friday, September 21, 2007

Greed is good?

I must confess to entering the first class of Government, Society and Business with some trepidation. It immediately conjured a vision of endless and inconclusive talk-talk amongst the poor professor and the class participation warriors. Add to this me being strategically located in the last row of class, and I thought I had the perfect combination to catch up on sleep leftover from the last 3 terms.

No such luck. And thank god for that! This subject has clearly been a winner. Not one class has gone without spirited debate, and the manner of teaching has been excellent .Prof M sure knew how to provoke the debater in you, and I’ve seen him skillfully draw out even the most tongue-tied of my friends. Not that the CP warriors needed any motivation…

However, my beef in this class relates to one topic. Bribe taking. While most people would expect a harangue against bribe taking and giving, Prof M did exactly the opposite. He showed graphically how a bribe might represent society’s response to allocate scare resources for specific economic activity.

Without going into the technical mumbo-jumbo, simply put a bribe is described as an economic mechanism designed to ensure that inefficiencies in production and distribution of resources, which could be due to government diktats, are resolved to the satisfaction of the sector that requires it. Take for instance infrastructure vs. housing. If the government mandates that a ceiling price for cement (incidentally that is what is the situation in India right now) and does not back it up with strict implementation, it is a recipe for bribe taking.

Without the proper monitoring in place, all that happens is that the housing sector offers the cement suppliers, a purchase price which is a notch above the ceiling price. Lo and behold! There is insufficient supply to the infrastructure sector, with the cement being diverted to the housing sector and a bribe taker’s paradise on our hands.

The prof’s advice? Look at things in context and you might actually see the relevance of bribes. But I disagree with the rationalization. Slapping one another does not make us friends. How will you explain the economics of bribes to the poor people at the ration shop who have to bribe the officer to get provisions? Or the monies which should be doled out by hapless people for sundry governments certificates?

Do two wrongs make a right?

Sunday, September 9, 2007


As I removed the last part of cake strategically plastered by DJ in my inner ear during my birthday celebration and soaked in a good hot shower my mind went back to the scene on day 1 of ISB, and day 1 of Sec B in particular.

Seemed a lot like first day at pre-school! Lots of new faces from different parts of the planet, and a bunch of super-smart brains to boot. I started out by facing this mythical beast called the core group (we’re still doing fine–touch wood) and this most mysterious aggregation of specimens under one roof – the quad.

Quickly coming to grips with the idiosyncrasies of both, it was time to know the folks of Sec B. I have to thank the Insti for giving me ample opportunity to do that. Sundry games of little consequence but a lot of pride value, singing, debating, you name it Sec B did it all. And the best bonding of all – the time honored ritual of dunking the birthday boy/girl and then slamming luscious cake all over their face (and pate – if you include my fate today).

And why only Sec B? All across the batch, I came across people I found interesting, likable or preferably both. There’s something mysterious about this process of finding and making friends. Complete strangers then, but the first people you want to be sitting down with for coffee now. The person you want to be sharing the latest salacious gossip or scandal. Your crib partner. Your counselor. Your fellow Maggi cook. Your co-dunkee in the pool…

6 months back, U would have passed me by in Mumbai without a glance. Today, she shyly mumbled a “Happy Birthday” in my cake-filled ear. R would have looked up from her comp in her software company, seen me stride into her office and got back to work without missing a beat. Today, she giggled and took a picture of me in all of my cake-splattered glory. V would have brushed past me at the airport, and caught the return flight to his consulting office. Yet, he spent time with me in the pool tonight, shivering to the bone. DJ would have given me a horribly handwritten prescription for my cold. Today he licked the chocolate cake from his fingers and wiped them on my shirt (yuck!)

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Thanks for being there guys.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The new Jataka Tales: Mice and the Shadows

Once upon a time, in the land of Wimpistan, there lived a great congregation of mice. These mice, like all other mice lived in peace and quiet. For years, despite occasional rumbling, by and large there existed great peace in the mice kingdom. The mice leaders were proud of this and proclaimed “ If we remain meek, others shall treat us with meekness too.” For years this remained the golden rule of engagement in the society of mice, and all was cheese.

Then suddenly, the mice began to die mysteriously. For some time, the vast population ignored this, fearful as they were with the prospects of the national cheese-eating team and the volatility of the chensex (the cheese index)! But the mice continued to die.

They fell while returning from work in their mice trains, or while frolicking in parks, even when they were savouring the spicy cheese delicacies in the neighbourhood shop! The mice leaders, long accustomed to an era of cheese siphoning were clueless. Who was killing the mice?

The leaders then hit upon the answer- it was the shadows! Yes- the shadows! True, said the others – was it always not dark when the mice fell? Surely it must have been the shadows! Blame the shadows! The mice people asked for drums and sticks to face the shadows. But the leaders would not let them, because they knew it was not the shadows! But if they admitted this to the mice people, they would lose their cheese!

The mice people knew the leaders were wrong this time. On the other hand, the leaders were always right! Why bother -Be meek and the shadows would leave us alone! they thought.Not so fast, said some young daring mice. Was it time to be bold? To forget fear? To stand fast? Not remain meek forever and die like flies do?

They decided to be brave. Slowly but surely they told the people to first be alert to danger. Then they asked them to keep their eyes and ears open and not flee at the first sign of a shadow. Finally, they trained a band of mice who would walk into the shadows if need be so.

Slowly the reports trickled in. A survivor of another “shadow” attack reported that he saw whiskers on the shadow. Another swore that the shadow had fur. Yet another said the shadow moved with something swishing behind…

Finally, gathering courage, the mice moved into the shadows in the direction of the latest attack. And lo behold- it was a cat! Thinking quickly they tied a big bell around the cat, while it snored away its latest mice meal. And then they went back and fought with their leaders and won the sticks and drums. And soon enough the cat was powerless! The mice heard the cat coming from far away and were able to stand up to it. Soon, it was the cat that had to flee for its life. The mice people were happy once more. All was well.

Moral: The mice people learnt from their lesson. Can we at least start now?

First among Equals ?

For the fourth time in my life, I shall announce my presence by a rectangular strip of firm paper. This paper shall be stocked by me on my person and liberally distributed to ease the process of networking- the stuff that corporate life is made of. For the first time however, I shall be representing an educational institution. It’s a feeling of satisfaction to belong to someplace!

So why am I writing about this? Well, we recently concluded the exercise of ensuring the cards are OK before printing. That also involved, as our dear leader D put it, “making sure names and titles are ok”.

Titles? What titles? Oh, those representative posts which some of us enterprising (or cunning –depending on whether your candidate won or lost) individuals got elected to. Well, a quick glance at the sheet made me wonder whether I was sitting at one of the CII conferences at Davos or someplace equally exotic. All around me sat Vice-Presidents, Presidents, Brand Managers, Directors and what have you in full bloom! Looked like being ordinary was well…not ordinary.

But pardon me; didn’t they say only those elected could put up their titles? Were so many of us elected? Democracies don’t lie and democratically elected people, never. If there were 10 folks in a club and each of them voted to make the other Vice-something or Executive- something else, wasn’t that a proper election process? Hell, that’s right!

Tintin fanatic that I am, this reminds me of a scene from Tintin and the Broken Ear. General Alcazar is told about a drunken Tintin, who was saved from the firing squad at the last minute, saying “Long Live General Alahambra (hic)! “ The happy general immediately appoints Tintin as a colonel and his aide-de-camp. To which Colonel Diaz suggests that given there are more colonels that corporals, could not Tintin be appointed corporal? Alcazar re-affirms Tintin’s appointment and promptly demotes Diaz to corporal! Which brings up the moot question- what are all of these people going to do? There is no one left to lead!!!

For the record, the author was elected as Director to a post, but has graciously decided to spare his visiting card the blushes…