Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Word of Mouth, then MMS and Now Word of the Mouse - Its all about ideas that went Viral !

Viral marketing, viral advertising or more pertinently the surprise of a 'million hits on facebook/youtube' basically refers to a creative output that spreads like wild fire and reaches millions of us in a very short period of time.

A creative output that encourages a certain set of the society having high social networking potential to share it.

A creative output that convinces the other certain set of the society having the curiosity to view or experience it.

With Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, viral marketing has become more pronounced in our day to day lives. Recently we saw the Flash Mob video at the CST Railway station, Mumbai. Please click here to experience the video if you haven't already. It has clocked 1,745,676 views as I write this blog.

Then we have seen Sonu Nigam taking advantage of the viral "Why This Kolaveri Di" to promote his son with a very methodically edited video of his son singing Kolaveri Di. The original video has clocked 21,839,944 views, not considering the other youtube edits of the same video. Even the Sonu Nigam engineered video has garnered 2,877,936 views.

A few generations back, viral ideas travelled through word of mouth, then I remember them travelling through MMSes, now they travel by the WORD OF MOUSE !

Speaking of word of mouth, the best example of an idea going viral, outside of the virtual world, is of course 'Harry Potter'. This series of books written by Ms. J. K. Rowling has been translated into 65 languages and has sold more than 325 million copies in more than 200 territories around the world. The Harry Potter films produced by Warner Bros. Pictures have grossed $3.5 billion worldwide at the box office.

MMSes as a medium for spreading virals also attained huge eyeballs and gossip. As we know, stories of two bollywood movies - DevD and LSD were based on the phenomena.

Do you remember the Ashmit Patel - Ria Sen MMS clip? It has again re-surfaced on youtube and is gaining popularity. You guys have to hunt for the link yourself on this. You can click here to hear an interesting news on it though... Hai Rabba, Ashmit! kuch to sharam karo..!

MMS virals were more of pornographic content, probably because MMS travelled from peer to peer and the mobile device is extremely personal. It was like how many men read a classic novel before going to bed alone!

Whatever said and done, pornography has limited scope in the society. MMS was soon bowled over by the social networking websites. Today is the generation of Youtube and FaceBook. And here comes the word of Mouse!
Some of the interesting epidemic that the mouse had spread:
  1. Charlie bit my finger - again ! (395,738,061 views)
  2. David After Dentist (103,648,602 views)
  3. Talented Fat kid Dancing to Dhinka Chika (1,541,922 views)
  4. A blog that has received over 2700 comments and over 1 million page-views - An open letter to a Delhi boy written by an amateur cum 'celebrity-now' blogger Shahana Nair Joshi
Going by these phenomena, it is obvious that the dream of every brand manager is to have at least one viral campaign in their careers. The biggest question still remains, how to create a viral campaign?

There are quite a few brand campaigns that have gone viral on youtube. Click on this line to sample a few.

The new Nokia Lumia - The Amazing Everyday video is going viral as we speak. It has clocked over a million page views already. 1,034,928 views to be precise. It has surpassed Samsung's "The Next Big Thing" Galaxy S II Commercial. Going by this, can I pressume that Microsoft has finally arrived into the mobile OS market? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no.

There is also hope for the old popular commercials to go viral today. If the brand has the ethos intact, why not re-popularise the old commercials.. The 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial is a case in point. It has received many millions of views. One of the many youtube uploads of the video has garnered 8,797,112 page views.

This world of viral marketing is the new challenge for every creative mind in the advertising and marketing industry. There are no easy answers or theory, just like there is no theory behind why Lady Gaga has the maximum number of followers on Twitter, followed by Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian (can you believe this?) and Britney Spears.... I cant name the line-up. It is gross. But it is a fact. Is beauty really skin-deep?

Honestly, designing a viral campaign would mean the final stamp on knowing not only consumer behaviour well, but also a generation to its bone marrow.

Till the time I can't create, let me just spread. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

What is my Nationality Proof !!

One fine day I receive an email from the HR department stating, "This is to bring to your urgent attention that your nationality details are not updated in our records. This is extremely important from a compliance perspective. Please provide one the following information urgently and not later than November 23, 2010". !!!
When I was scanning the list of the 'following information', it struck me, "Do we really have a nationality document?" We don't really have one document to validate our Indian nationality. The constitution is deficient in not have one citizenship document.

I also realised that we commonly hear questions like 'which are the citizenship proof documents that are required to apply for a passport?' Surprisely, there are hardly any national debates discussing the topic of having a mandatory piece of document to prove citizenship.

The most accepted definition (Marshall - 1965) of citizenship is that it comprises three elements - civil, political and social element. The civil element refers to the right of the individual - the freedom of speech and faith, the right to own property and to justice. The political element is portrayed as the right to directly or indirectly participate in the exercise of political power. The implementation of this right pertains to political representation. The social element covers the whole range from the right to economic welfare & security, to the right to live the life of a civilized being to the standards prevailing in the society.
A unique nationality proof would go a long way in ensuring a just implementation of all the three elements for the authorised citizens of the country.

Germany has the German ID card as the primary proof, apart from the German passport that presumes German nationality for assistance from German consular officials abroad. Same is with Sweden where the tangible proof of Swedish citizenship is the national passport or the national identification card.
As for the United States of America, the certificate of US citizenship is the only document issued by the US Government as proof of US citizenship.
British citizenship may be proved by a British passport, a Certificate of Entitlement to Right of Abode, a British consular birth certificate, a nationality status letter or a Certificate of Registration issued by the Home Office. It may seem 4 documents, but actually there are all related to various types of citizenship.
In Singapore, prior to 1965, even aliens could work there as long as there was someone employing them. However, they too introduced work permits and travel restrictions. Non-citizens could no longer work and had to apply for work permits.
Likewise, most developed countries have a clear policy on citizenship proof, which India seems to lack.
The information that I had to provide to prove my nationality was 'one of the following':
  1. Voters ID Number
  2. Passport number, Date of issue of passport and Date of Expiry
  3. Copy of Domicile certificate
Voters ID card or Electors Photo Identity Card(EPIC) is an identification card issued by the Election Commission to all eligible voters, to enable voter identification on election day. However, the irony is that the voters ID card is NOT essential for voting. The only requirement is the presence of your name in the list of registered voters i.e., electoral rolls or voter list of your polling booth and an identity proof.

Passport is perceived to be document required if there is a need or capability to travel out of India. Penetration of passport in the rural areas therefore, is almost negligible.

A Domicile/Residence Certificate is generally issued to get college admissions and jobs in the Government services. It is a proof that the person bearing the Certificate is a Domicile/Resident of the State/Union Territory.

To add to the fluidity of the whole process, it was perfectly okay if I didn't have any of the above three documents. I was given a form that I could fill in. I had to put it onto a stamp paper with a sign from the magistrate. Thats it and I am a citizen of India to enjoy all rights of a citizen!

With these accepted procedures, do we really know our citizens? For a better understanding of its citizen, and optimum utilization of tax income for the citizenry in terms of education, employment, medical facilities, social security etc, it is absolutely essential to have an unique identification document or number for each of the citizens. This document should also be mandatory to avail of any citizenship rights.

This document can not only be used for identification but also for tracking every public service that one uses. It can also be used to make family trees and progression of a culture/community. It can act as a deterrent for foreigners to settle in India.
Today, the cultural fabric of Assam, for instance is endangered because of the continuous immigration of the poor Bangladeshi population. It is very easy for a Bangladeshi family to claim Indian citizenship by being in Assam for a few months. One of the various ways is to get caught in a minor theft cause. Once there is police history, voters ID card comes next. Voter ID as we can guess, is a political instrument, which can bring in political corruption. It can one of the cheapest tactics of vote-bank politics.

Logo of Aadhaar Project
The Aadhaar project of the Government of India seems to be the saviour, but it has many weaknesses. The pros are:

  1. It intends to deliver unique identification numbers (12 digits) to every resident including the homeless and transgender. It is been interestingly popularized as ‘Aam Aadmi Ka Adhikaar’. 
  2. Even if people do not have required documents, they can apply for Aadhaar card. Individuals who already have an Aadhaar card can introduce residents who do not have any documents to establish identity.
  3. It aims to facilitate easy verification, availing of Government or Private services, help welfare programmes reach intended beneficiaries and for serving as basis for e-Governance.
  4. There would be rare duplication, as it is linked to demographics and biometric information - photo, 10 fingerprints and iris.
  5. It is free of cost and the Government of India is bearing the total cost.
However, the biggest loophole is that it is being promoted as a voluntary scheme. It is not mandatory to get yourself registered for the UID. Secondly, it is not a proof of citizenship but is meant for all residents of India. This brings our argument to square one.

It is high time that the Aadhar project is made mandatory so that India can plan for equitable distribution of wealth, education, employment, medical facilities and social security procedures.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I flew Indigo today. They are the best.

Just boarded my flight back to Mumbai after a wonderful evening at MICA, Ahmedabad. In my mind, I am thanking the MICA team for booking the tickets with Indigo Airlines.

Indigo never fails to surprise me with their brilliance. The crew, the hostesses, their marketing ideas, the in-flight announcements, their time adherence, their customer service... the list is endless. They know their business well.

No surprises that they are the most profitable airlines in a time when kingfisher has become pawnfisher with no money to pay for fuel.

So how Indigo pleased me this time...
  1. Quite obviously, the hostesses were looking better than ever. They were wearing a hat that we normally see on international flights. And very pleasantly, they had the same stylish haircuts!  
  2. Most interestingly, they were wearing a cute badge on their left sleeves saying 'I am going international'. What a great communication idea to talk to existing customers! It could have said 'We are going international'. Most marketeers would have written it that way. But there is a reason why Indigo is also the best employer in the transportation industry. The 'I' factor will make every hostess will feel proud of the message and own the message which will positively affect their service standards.
  3. Have you ever seen Sandwiches photographed like this? A top cross-section view. The in-flight 
      Inflight Magazine of Indigo
    mag is top class and no-nonsense. 1 page each for veg and non-veg food, two pages for snacks, two pages for munchies, one page for juices/drinks, two pages for full page ads clubbed together, 4/5 pages on Indigo merchandise, and 3 pages about Indigo. Interestingly they talk about various awards inside a simple trophy mnemonic in the merchandise pages in an unobtrusive way.
  4. I was delighted to hear 'please do not forget to save your work that you might have done on your laptop before switching it off'. How do they arrive at such great ideas when every other airlines are simply being so usual and normal? 
Thank you Indigo for a great flight. We have just landed in Mumbai. I will surely show my gratitude by traveling with Indigo every time.

All the best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Organise an event to learn how to be patient !

Dr. Mallika Kondoli
performing Sattriya Nritya
13th November 2011 has become a past tense. I feel awkward. My mind was too used to considering it in the future; a future that was approaching super fast to a no-station land.

Today, there is an emptiness due to its absence. Pre-13th November was a period of many emotions. There was optimism, pessimism, anxiety, camaraderie, loneliness, anger, frustration. The only thread of all the overflow was patience which helped me keep my sanity and self motivation intact.
Srimanta Sankaradeva
A few of my friends and I had organised 'Saaneki - Indelible Impressions of Assam' at the Experimental theatre, NCPA, Mumbai on the 13th of November 2011. It was a Assamese cultural event with 35 artists being invited from Assam for 4 nights, and 10 different song/dance items to be executed in 2 hours 30 minutes.

Our plan was grand. Grand beyond us. Our wish list was impractical given our nine-to-nine Mumbai jobs. Cost was much higher than what we could self fund. The agenda was too large in scope to clearly fathom its depth. We were few and inexperienced.

Entrace to Saaneki at NCPA
Mukha, Japi and Gamocha
What we had was our love for Assam and the Northeast, our grief that the rich Sattriya culture is unknown to the rest of India and our resolution to give back to our roots, our identity.
August is when Monali (my better half) and I, first thought of Saaneki. We wanted to create awareness about our great 15th century Saint and socio-cultural reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva

We called ourselves
Kuhipaat Foundation
The initial plan was to put up the event on 16th October - His Janmotsav. Later we had to shift the date to 13th November and thankfully so because the venue that we got was the most prestigious NCPA, Nariman Point. The venue search undoubtedly was one of the most anxious times that we had spent. I was always hopeful, though.
We needed a venue, which would lend credibility to the program. Moreover, our target audience were people from outside the Northeast.

Simultaneously, we were deciding on the event name, and organiser team name. Designing of their logos. We were doing research on the program agenda. Sattriya culture developed and propagated by Srimanta Sankaradeva is too vast, classical and sacred. We needed to collect funds and sponsorships. We need to scout for talents in Assam who can perform in Mumbai and do justice to Sattriya culture. The list was endless.

Naam Prasang at Saaneki, NCPA
Every little thing that we had to accomplish gave us hopelessness in the beginning. We had to keep patience for things to fall in place. Be it the venue, artists, funds, event props, audience, media coverage and logistics. The only mantra was the thought that we have to keep working hard, be positive and think that we can make it happen.
Every night after office went till 2AM in the morning. Writing content for the leaflet, writing mails to probable sponsors and individual contributors, negotiations with performing artists.

Ram Katha by Mridusmita Das
As the event came closure, the tension was building up. Booking train tickets for the artists, hotel reservations, arranging transport etc were easier, we were actually tensed about the logistics inside the auditorium, once the program starts. How do we manage 12 different programs - the agenda had live programs, solo performance, group performance, songs, shraddhanjali to our dear Bhupen da, a prayer ceremony - Naam Prasanga.
Shraddhanjali to Dr. Bhupen Hazarika at Saaneki, NCPA
We kept working hard and we told ourselves to be patient. Today I firmly believe that if you have focus and keep working hard, the whole universe conspires to help you out of all your problems. We had three hands of God, helping us have a great professionally organised event.

First hand of God was our friend called Dezadd, who is one of the best floor managers of the country. We had casually told him to help us on the event day. There was no confirmation that he would actually come. But half an hour prior the event, he was with us. He reached and chaos went away. People today ask me, "Was it really your first event? It was so professionally done."

The second hand of God was the extremely intelligent Meiyang Chang. He cancelled his other appointments to be with us, half an hour before the event. In just 15 minutes, he adapted himself to all the Assamese words. He added grandeur to the event that we could never achieve in our very first event.

Meiyang Chang was felicitated with the
traditional Assamese Japi and Gamocha
The third hand of God was a friend of one of our team members - Mahan J. Dutta. He was George K. Antoney. He designed the lights. And I think it was just too fabulous. The photographs would tell you what I mean by writing 'just fabulous'.

So today, when I look back at Saaneki - the planning, the design, the logistics, the 'begging money' spree, the 13th of November, the accolades, the post event phone calls - I just take back one learning. 

Have patience and keep working at it. Everything just happens. Sometimes it takes a bit more time, but it would happen nevertheless.

I take this opportunity to thank Meiyang Chang once again, Dr. Mallika Kondoli, Mridusmita Das, Rumi Talukdar, Mrigen Dutta, Gunindranath Ojah, Dezadd and George without whose participation, this event would have been a non-starter.
I thank Monali Bhardwaj, Mahan J. Dutta, Arindam Baruah, Dhruva Bordoloi, Sourik Datta, Leon Kaushik, Debashish Sarma and Sagar Saurav who worked tirelessly in various ways to organise this event.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika... Scribblings of a dark day!

Its a day of extreme sadness. Bhupen da has left us forever.

Many know Dr. Bhupen Hazarika as the singer-musician of Assam; some know him as the multifaceted genius, who was a good poet, music composer, singer, actor, journalist, author and a film-maker; few know him as India's first doctorate in film studies and music.

I however know him as someone, who loved his ethnic identity, his Assam and her people. I know him as the pragmatic statesman who wrote for people, of their emotions, about their problems, and for their future.

Loving one's identity is not corollary to hating everyone elses'.

He sang in Bengali. He sang for Bangladesh. He sang in Hindi. He even sang in English. He became closely associated with Paul Robeson between 1949 and 1955 in USA, where he was awarded a Gold Medallion in New York as the best interpreter of India's folk songs by Eleanor Roosevelt.
6th November 2011
Today Dr. Bhupen Hazarika did his last trip to his Nizarapar house in Guwahati. The whole Guwahati was on the streets to walk with him for the last time. I have not seen a bigger reception. I have not seen a bigger mass-emotion. I have not seen so many people crying for a public figure.

Why is a genius in some art forms so respected, so adored and could gather such a massive public response? Jagjit Singh in today's times and Mohd. Rafi of yesterday didn't generate such public emotion. They were better singers and surely had a larger fan base.

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was a poet and a singer who knew how to communicate through his songs. He was a social activist who knew the power of words if written and sung well. He could do both very well.

This talent of him was further strengthened because of his genuine love for his motherland - Assam. He understood Assamese people and had knowledge about its myriad cultures and traditions. He had written and sung songs on every social, economic and political issue of his times, that are relevant even today.

It was in 1970 when he thought of inculcating 'dignity of labour' among the common man of the Assamese community. He with his brother Jayanta Hazarika started the Rickshaw Chalao musical drive to convince the common man that even pulling rickshaw is a dignified job. There is nothing to be ashamed of. He envisioned that if there is dignity of labour, a community can do quicker economic progress and would have lesser unemployment.

His love for Assam took him to every corner of Assam. He related to people of every tribe and community. He had written and sung songs about every place (almost) that he had visited. His songs had meanings that penetrated public emotions of each of these places that he visited.

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika had his own share of personal miseries. He perhaps had a larger share than most of us. But those bad times couldn't take him away from his focus, from his love for the Assamese community, from the love of music.

He was a true Indian and a responsible world citizen. However, from all his work, I see that he was an Assamese first. It is this love that he had for his ethnic identity that's making me feel a great loss.

It's an era that has ended. Assam has lost one of its greatest son ever.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I get surprised. Then I evolve..

In 1997 when I dared coming to Delhi for a career, it was a super daring scene to see a woman driving a car. I missed a local bus once looking at an woman driving a foreign SUV.

It was a spinal chord turner. It was super sexy to see a woman in command. I used to wonder if they have two cars in the house, or if the husband is okay sitting in the passenger seat. I used to think, "Isn't that a paradigm shift of control"
By 2001, when I started my first job in Mumbai, it was still not too common to find women driving to offices. If a woman is driving to office, then she had that extra edge in the game of peer pressure and women liberation.

I was evolving. I have started accepting as normal, as a good sign of modernity. It was still a bit awkward for me to be in the passenger seat of a car driven by a female colleague.

Now, it is my 10th year in Mumbai and I have completely evolved.

Around the year 2001, I saw the first girl smoking and walking on the streets. Few of my friends used to smoke during my MBA days, but that was still mostly closed doors. Seeing a girl smoke in the street, in a chai ka galla was strangely mesmerising and disgusting at the same. Mesmerising because it was sexy. Disgusting because smoking is harmful and I knew that she would never be able to quit.

I once saw a mother telling her husband to keep the kids, then almost running to the side of the building to smoke. The husband busy on his phone could not stop the kids to run to their mother. You had to see the mother's face, being caught red-handed by her kids.

I used to practically ogle at women smoking, more so if she was pretty and looked innocent, trying to pretend the 'what's the big deal' attitude at the same time. It is pathetic to admit, but I felt kind of macho to be smoking with them. Whenever I would go for a chai, I would not be able to control my urge to smoke, if there was a girl smoking in public sipping tea all alone.

Soon, that too became a normal sight. It became just another man smoking beside me. However, I am still doubtful if I would be able to accept a smoker wife.

Back in 1997, it was a college secret for a couple to live-in. The girl would have a house on rent with her friends, but she would mostly sleep in her boyfriend's house. Or the vice versa. These relationships were the grapevine - discussed, abused, mocked in closed doors at every get-together in the absence of the co-sleeping friends.

I would have been very uncomfortable about living-in with my girlfriend. I would have to run away from my friends, become a loner with only my girlfriend beside me.

Today Supreme Court has recognised live-in relationships and with that we have evolved to accept it as something better than going for an arranged marriage with someone, one hardly knows.

I am in my second live-in relationship.

Then came the ubiquitous hot pants in around 2006. How could a girl wear such a short pant, was my first question. Today, it seems every 17 year old wear a hot pant when she is just meeting her friends, going to the shopping mall.

I swear that I can't be fantasizing about all these 17 year olds irrespective of the milky-ness of her thighs or the smoothness from the latest waxing session. It was mostly a sight of questioning the status quo. What's happening to the kids?

It's been a life of constant evolution. I have moved a thousand years ahead in just 10 years. I feel so far away from all my friends and cousins back in Assam. Whenever I visit my home town, I try to travel back in time to relate to every statement directed at me from my elders. I wonder how it will be for my parents if I get them to Mumbai to spend the rest of their lives.

Would they crib to despair and get restless due to the whole hopelessness of the situation?

I may be hopeful. They may be hopeless.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It was my day of Introspection

Do you get this feeling of just running away into another world unknown? Today that was the mood of my day.

Naturally, it was my introspection day. A day that must save my days and my life.

As we grow being a toddler to a runner, we learn to ask questions, to absorb new sights, to ask for toffees by every minute, to play a new game and the list is endless. We go to school and collect new experiences. We go to college and learn to smoke, to drink, and of course, to woo girlfriends. 

Then we start earning. We start hunting for the best job. We aspire to drive the best bike and then the best possible car.

This exponential series of adapting to and accepting new things, learning new tricks of the trade slowly but surely gets us all into the virtual realm of Maya. Maya that is addictive. Maya that is overwhelming. 

One Sunday afternoon, I vividly remember my father saying, 'I want to stop having mutton'. Then I had asked, why on earth do you want to quit mutton. He said, I am completing a natural cycle of taking everything and then trying to leave everything. I thought, "whatever" and continued chewing the tasty liver.

Today I suddenly understand what he meant. I am starting on my next phase of life - the phase of giving up and giving back.

This is my 12th year of my professional life. 11th year of slogging in Mumbai.

I have already given up cold drinks, given up chocolates (almost), given up sweets (almost), trying to give up smoking (which perhaps would always be 'trying to'). Today, I feel like giving up Mumbai.

I don't mean the city. I mean the life. (unfortunately, the city and the life are conjoint twins)

We cant give up earning and the chaos that you have to go through to earn a decent life. But we sure can give up the crazy decibels, crazy traffic, crazy working hours, crazy cost of living, and the smoke filled, dust filled star-less sky.

It is also a time to give back. It is a time give back what I have learnt, what I have experience and what I have earned. 

Its a time to give back the love that my parents showered. Would they ever come to Mumbai to stay with me. Never. So should I go back to Assam and be with them in their lonely times?

Its a time to give back to the society. To start counseling the youths to make a career. To help a bit to take Assam into an economic growth trajectory. To start contributing to culture, to preserve and promote it. 

Did I get enough time to think clearly and to arrive at some resolutions. Of course, not. Mumbai hardly gives you that much personal space and time. I had another great busy day. Quite a lot of problem solving, delegation and management was done.

I perhaps need another day of Introspection !

Saturday, September 17, 2011

We can be the Government !

Everyone of us, who have migrated to metro cities from small towns and villages for work and prosperity, can probably relate to all the cribs that we often hear and make about our home states and state governments.

One of the Facebook comments read, 'Without a better Government, better policies, implementation and awareness, no one can develop the current condition of Assam till 2050... the Government is busy in making people fools...'

I also used to say that a few times till I could realize that Government is not essential to economic and social development.

Its definitely hard work and needs a lot of dedication, passion and sacrifice. However, we have to believe it strongly that economic and social development can happen without tax money and Government intervention. 

We can be the Government ourselves!

The hypothesis is basic and straight-forward. An economy develops when there is growth potential for disposable income, which can circulate in the economy to provide for a cyclical growth. The more the disposable income, the faster the money circulates, the better is the economic potential towards growth. Secondly, with increased potential for disposable money in the economy, communities tend to spend more time for social, cultural and community development.

Any small idea that can contribute to disposable income in the short run or in the long run, is worth its effort towards development.

Well known economist Keynes had spoken about Govt. spending by paying the public to dig and fill up holes in the ground. When the public would get the money, they would buy and thus would increase money flow in the economy. That was his one of the solutions to get over the great depression of the thirties.

Mahatma Gandhi vision towards economic development was to help every village become a self-sufficient republic. Mr. Gandhi's economic policies were different from what Nehru instituted in the first five year plans. He spoke about self sufficient villages and not about big inefficient PSUs.

Each one of us working outside Assam or in Assam with knowledge, know-how and some money can fulfil Gandhi's philosophy by thinking about our villages and towns first to add economic value. 

Adding economic value is not as difficult as it sounds. Let me illustrate few of the basic initiatives that each one of us can make an effort to take.

  1. Whenever we visit our native place, we need to find out few hours to address school and college students about any topic that you think is of importance. It can be lecture on career counselling, self employment tips, dignity of labour, importance of time and the list can go on.
  2. We can organise a get together in local clubs to increase awareness about mediclaim, life insurance, health insurance, mutual funds etc. This will not only improve lives of people who buys these instruments, but also help local youths who can become agents to sell them.
  3. We can pay for college education in terms of the hostel fee and a monthly maintenance. If a student gets an admission into cotton college and we can contribute Rs. 2000 for the student, we are actually giving life to knowledge. We should simply focus on our home villages to find a worthy student.
  4. Knowledge is the new currency of today. We can write blogs and also can contribute to the local newspapers and magazines to spread knowledge. We should write about agriculture, mid-size business ideas and models, increasing efficiency etc which can boost economic value addition.
  5. We should create awareness about micro-finance possibilities. We have the initiative called 'Rickshaw Bank' that can be replicated for most of the low cost business ideas that small towns can easily execute. It is as simple as buying a rickshaw for a poor family and asking for Rs. 18 everyday for 18 months.
  6. We can organise small events by calling artists and performers from Assamese villages and towns to cities like Mumbai. Even if we pay a nominal performance fee, the overall benefit is much higher to the society at large.
  7. Open a question/answer page in Facebook where anyone can ask questions relating to the area of your expertise. If you are a CA, you can answer questions on tax, company accounting best practices etc. 
There are numerous such ideas that each of us can initiate. The intention needs to be there to contribute in some way by spending few hours, one day a week. Once the intention is there, ideas are never-ending.
It is a humble request that everybody on the better side of life should think of contributing back to the society in the smallest way possible.

We can then be the Government. And we wont get the time to crib about the Government.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Are festivals festive for all?

Last night, it was an elephant of crazy monotonous beating of drums that kept me awake till 2 AM in the morning.

It was worse when I woke up with an elephant headache from all the crazy monotonous beating of drums at 5 AM in the morning.

Effectively, devotion to Lord Ganesha made me sleep just 3 hours, and now I am in the office - angry and sleepy. I can assure that I wouldn't be less angry and less sleepy, if I was a devotee myself.

Everybody but the troupe of drum beaters and the group/family which is bringing the idol to their mandal, were clearly in deep agony. It was just too sensitive an emotion, to show it upfront on the face.

It is unfortunate that we lack civic sense, responsibility and sensibility towards our fellow citizens when we go about satisfying our personal urges to achieve happiness and contentment. From cutting a lane with a probable hope to reach the personal destination faster, to celebrating festivals without caring for the others in the society, we are just a selfish bunch of human beings.

Perhaps that is the reason why the Great Ganges is filled with filth, stink and germs. I have heard that the shops next to the ghats sell soaps and shampoos the most, and at a premium. All that matter to us is a dip in the Ganga for a few seconds to absolve ourselves from the sins. Then we spend hours in the bathrooms of our luxurious hotels with all the soaps and the shampoos to wash off all the filth, stink and germs.

Perhaps that is the reason why our public toilets are un-usable. Perhaps that is the reason why our asses may get a chewing gum attack in a public transport. And the list goes on...

Do we really know how to lead a community life? Do we know the meaning of a team player? Is that the reason why we are pathetic in all team games? (Cricket is not a team game!)


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Freedom from Fuel Hikes

They say freedom is a state of mind, however fluid it may sound.

On second thoughts, it seems to me that it is intended to be fluid and philosophical. It is almost impossible to achieve, but everybody wants to achieve it nevertheless. It would only be a slight exaggeration if we say that we want freedom at almost every moment.

We need freedom from Fuel Hikes!

Last night when I asked "Kitna litre?" to the petrol station attendant after giving Rs. 200, he said "Do Aath". I said "wtf, only two litres of Petrol in 200 rupees". I was ignoring the .8 litre affected by the Bata price-tag mindset.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of the fuel price being the same. I cannot expect it to be the same till my next pay hike. Even if I work 24 hours to get the promotion this year.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of a vehicle that runs on water. If that becomes the case, we would need to have two monsoons. One monsoon in the winters for the BMC (municipality) to maintain the supply, even to drink! We can use paper for the other things.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of a day when we would have separate track for riding cycles. We cant expect to have a ban for single occupancy in personal 4-wheelers expecting reduced fuel demand, increased employment of drivers and increased pooling of cars complimenting public transport.

No, freedom from fuel hikes can definitely not mean public transport for me. I can not now get into local trains, buses, cars and auto-rickshaws.

Some of them says fuel price hike is positive for economic growth. It seems there are some broader benefits. I believe what they say in the absence of enough knowledge to validate. Now that's something, for sure wont let me expect freedom from fuel hikes.

It is good that I can manipulate the feeling of freedom to my benefit, neither with any expectation from someone to do something, nor with any guilt of hampering something good for the larger society.

It is good that freedom is a state of mind.

This blog post was written to participate in the Indiblogger contest sponsored by Fiat . The topic of the contest was 'Freedom from Fuel Hikes' 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lokpal Bill - An Allopathic Approach to Fighting Corruption

Lokpal Bill is more of an allopathic treatment with known and unknown side-effects. It seems to be directed at treating the symptoms of corruption that is overtly visible.

It rests on the assumption that we can police corruption. It rests on the assumption that corruption would reduce on a sustainable basis, if we persecute the guilty. It rests on an assumption that the Lok Pal himself and the Lokpal committee would be super-humans and would not get lured into corruption.

Although these assumptions are valid at a certain level in terms of inducing fear among the people who wields the power to do corruption as public servants, yet they are not an end in itself. We have to get inventive to arrive at sustainable solutions to curb corruption and more specifically to curb the need for corruption. There is no single solution and it wont happen in the short term. We have to arrive at a series of policies and strategies to be implemented in the next 50 years to curb the idea of corruption.

This blog post is an effort to point at some of the steps that should be taken to curb corruption. There may be many others that I am unable to think, but the idea is to have solutions that are human independent, and process dependent. A process oriented solution would stand strong even if the main proponent or the main committee decides to quit the program.

Each of the solutions that I am suggesting can become a paper for discussion. So I intend to keep it short.
  1. Who funds the political parties to fight elections? My first solution lies in this question. There should be a central pool of funds (tax money) that should fund the political parties and their election expenses. There should be a bill that defines the role of funding and restrictions put on political parties in using any kind of funds of their own. This solution will address the huge need for funds that political parties have to sustain their campaign and to sustain their dedicated party workers. I consider this need for funds as one of the primary reason for corruption.
  2. How many political parties today pay their taxes? There was a news item recently that highlighted over 300 registered political parties, which have never filed their tax returns. The Government should stress on reforming the control and accounting standards over political spending and donations. This would put restrain among the funding lobby in the political parties. The need for funds would also be lessened and additionally a proper accounting policy would put restraints on the collection of funds.
  3. Do we have a strong moral science subject in our primary and secondary syllabus? Primary education and then secondary education form our attitude and impressions about life. Not many schools, except for the few convent schools have any subject that teaches the kids about being a good citizen and a good human being. The Government should empanel acknowledged academicians to prepare a subject that is compulsory till the 10th standard. The subject would impart education about becoming a good human-being and a good citizen. It should also rationalize the need for it and why it is beneficial for everyone, the society and the country. This subject should cover the negative effects of corruption in personal and public life, and to the community in general. 
  4. Do we know how many house holds were raided for income tax irregularities in your city? It is important to have a deterrent strategy in place. We live in a society and have certain inherent fears that guide us. As part of the RTI strategy, we may have a system to present information in public forum about people who are investigated for corruption, or are convicted of corruption. Being present in such a list may become a big deterrent to being involved in corrupt practices.  
  5. Are all the Government services including the police force adequately paid? It is very critical and essential that Government should periodically review remuneration structures of all Government officials including sensitive departments like the police force. For instance, I have been given to understand that there are no adequate mediclaim policies that cover the police personnel and their families. In my experience, I think that our police forces including traffic police force have a very tough working life and they deserve to be paid well.
  6. Do we have enough reward and recognition programs in the Government offices? Do we have a recognition program if a particular flyover project is completed on time? Do we have a recognition program if a police officer does the maximum number of over-time shifts? I would not know how many such opportunities are there to reward and recognise people, but I do know that it works in terms of enhancing motivation and to continue to do good work.    
The moot point is that there are multiple ways to attack the root causes that create the need for corruption, and those that negates the conscious mind working against being corrupt. We can bring about 100 more such solutions if we organise a workshop of thinking minds.

The Lokpal Bill may become the deterrent, if it is drafted in the way Team Anna had drafted. The Lokpal bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 was much weaker and it was not independent of the political class - Government and the Opposition. You may read the critical difference between the Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna and the Lokpal bill passed in the Lower house by clicking here.

Unless, the Lokpal bill is completely independent of the political class and the bureaucracy, it would serve no purpose, other than becoming one of the many existing machineries to fight corruption. Till I see the Jan Lokpal bill which is approved, my opinion is that the Lokpal Bill is an allopathic approach to fighting corruption. It is not addressing the root causes that define the mentality to get corrupt.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why do we have Anna Hazare?

Many argue that Anna Hazare is a danger to parliamentary democratic institution. But the question we need to ask ourselves is whether do we have a democratic institution representing the masses?

If we really had such an institution, wouldn't Anna Hazare's of India have better things to fight for.. like primary education, for instance.

If we really had such a revered institution, wouldn't we have better electoral participation? Currently our electoral participation is hardly noteworthy, hovering around 50%.

Many also argue that Anna Hazare and his team should stand up in the elections, get elected and then correct corruption. But thats an argument in utopia. That is an option only if we have a fair election process.

We have to acknowledge the bottom line truth of Indian Parliamentary democracy today. The truth is that elections are being played and participated by the 'Kings'. These are modern-day Kings ruling their fief-doms (constituency). They are Kings with loads of cash, or a good source-of-cash support. They are Kings with an army of muscle power to vandalise any opposition or danger to the supposedly democratic parliamentary seat.

Corruption is the outcome of such an status quo. Today's Indian parliamentary democracy necessitates the role of money to become part of it. The party worker, an MLA or an MP having a better source of funds available to him influences the decisions of the party.  

We need a revolution to overthrow the current democratic status quo of the Kings. The status quo that breeds corruption and kills accountability.

It is rare that we have an opportunity like the one we have today with Anna Hazare being the leader and the protagonist.Lets catch on to this opportunity and bring in whole-some reforms into our political system and parliamentary democracy.

We need a jolt to wake us up.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Assam - Rule of the Shorter Term

This blog post is a result of the thought process that I assimilated by reading 'Northeast: threat to nation building and sovereignity' The blog post had an interesting perspective on how a kingdom can rule longer by giving autonomy to its smaller princely states, and by protecting them from larger enemies. We have seen that style of governance being beautifully exemplified by the Mughal rulers, the British administration, the Ahom Kingdom ruling Assam for over 600 years.

This style of administration is still relevant to today's political problems. However, it is hard to be seen. Telangana, Uttaranchal and the most burning of them is the issue that we are facing in the NorthEast, stems from the lack of such a style of administration. An administration style that recognises and appreciates the aspirations, culture, language, history of every smallest unit of the polity.

The most potent nationalistic emotion in Assam today is the feeling of 'not being part of the mainstream politics and economic development'. The reason for this emotion is the lack of autonomy and national protection of their local identity, that the citizens in the North Eastern states feel. We need to understand the foundation for such an emotion among the masses in the North East and Assam.

Formation of the Indian union and the emotion of being an 'Indian' had slowly started building with the spread of the Mughal kingdom. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Mughal kingdom couldn't seize power from the Ahom rulers in Assam. By the start of 1800, when the Burmese army started expanding towards Assam and had defeated and plundered the Ahom Kingdom, Manipur, Cachar Kingdoms, that the British army started focussing on Assam and the NorthEast. The British Army fought one of the most expensive battles to defeat the Burmese army and hence Assam became part of the British Empire and the Indian Union.

They bought educated and English knowing Bengalis to assist them in its administration. This had an alienating effect, which was to last another hundred years. Even I could sense the over-bearing presence of Bengalis in Assam in all administrative offices of the Government.

After the first partition of Bengal in 1905, Assam witnessed another phenomenon to shatter its identity related confidence. Muslim peasants from the over populated East Bengal started to migrate to the sparsely populated fertile fields of Brahmaputra and Surma Valleys. The formation of All India Muslim League in 1906 further hatched a political conspiracy to expand its numerical strength in Assam. The league initiated organised migration of Muslims from East Bengal. Nawab Salim Ullah Khan, a prominent Muslim leader and one of the founder members of AIML exhorted the Muslims to migrate to Assam and settle there in his public meetings.

The situation worsened during the period between 1939-1941 when the alternative coalition Govt of Sir Saadullah allotted one Lakh bighas (a bigha is little less than an acre) of land in Assam valley for the settlement of East Bengal immigrants. He ignored the protest of Assam Congress leaders like Bishnuram Medhi on the plea that the Muslim exodus from Bengal to Assam was necessary for the success of 'Grow more food' scheme in the state. In reality, Sir Saadullah was 'growing more Muslims'.

After Independence, Assam remained a part of the Indian Union inspite of all effort by the Muslim League, thankfully for the many hill and plain tribes. Non-Muslims outnumbered the Muslims. I would assume it was a sign of relief. 

However, that sign of relief didnt last long. The feeling of alienation was to be ascerbated once again. During the Indo-China war of 1962, when the Chinese army had reached till the beautiful city of Tezpur, Jawaharlal Nehru made the tragic immature remark saying, 'my heart goes with the people of Assam'. It is important to note that Tezpur is one of the cultural centres of Assam, which produced many freedom fighters who laid down their lives in the Quit India movement and other such Independence movements. Assamese people didnt take this comment very lightly. It strengthened the foundation of anti-India sentiments. For instance, I heard about this comment in hear-say, floating across every household in Assam.

There were other smaller yet supposedly step-motherly initiatives by the Central Government that kept this perception of mis-rule intact. One such example was the Barauni Refinery in Bihar which was set up to process the low sulphur crude oil (sweet crude) from Assam. The other example was the lack of a tea auction centre in Assam. The tea auction centre in Calcutta was established in 1861, however, it was only in 1970 that the Guwahati Tea Auction centre was established.

Democracy of today and the constitution of India gives us two rulers with varying rights. One is the State Government and the other is the Central Government. With Lok Sabha being the power centre, the lobby for any developmental initiatives is counted by the electronic votes and therefore by the number of Loksabha MPs. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats among a possible total of 552 seats. The upper house - Rajya Sabha has 7 seats reserved for Assam. One of them is interestingly occupied by Manmohan Singh. It sounds quite fortunate for Assam. However, if I search in Google about any development or social work initiated by Manmohan Singh, there is nothing worthwhile to mention. I would take the liberty to say that Rajya Sabha is just a theoritical concept, inadequate in execution to keep the federal spirits of the country alive.

With such a low representation in both the houses, the emphasis on Assam, its culture, its economy is always a doubt. Mathematically, it may be an accurate representation but emotions and perceptions cannot be measured or controlled with mathematical logic. Its all about Action that defines a polity. I personally rule out all expectations that the Central Government would be patriotic of the sensitivities of the North East. So in all practicality, issues in Assam and the North East cannot outnumber NewDelhi’s other priorities.

The second option eligible to have become a good ruler for Assam was the ruling State Government. Going by the last few state governments, I would like to highlight the difference between the Moghul/Ahom kingdoms and Mahmud of Ghazni / Myanmar generals. The difference is that the former had a vision and an urge to rule longer either by design or by lack of choice, and the latter had the simple objective to loot and run. So the former did everything right to rule for hundreds of years and the latter looted, and vanished without much mention.

It is completely the prerogative of the ruling Government to either have a vision to rule longer and be a leader for centuries to come, or have just some short term objectives (which appear long term from one human adult life perspective) and rule for 5 to 10 years at a stretch. The current breed of rulers in Assam unfortunately doesn't seem to have a vision irrespective of whether it is AGP, BJP OR CONGRESS.

The burning issues are always at the back-burner. The Bangladeshi infiltration is eating up the socio-economic fabric in Assam. It already has 18 constituencies with a Muslim majority, up from 10 in the last election. Still the Government is not serious about curbing the menace. There is no concrete action to seal borders like we have in the west with Pakistan. There is no concrete plan to prepare for a common identity document to identify citizens. We Indians do not have a unique identity document as a proof of citizenship unlike the US and the UK. Lack of Government spending, stagnant private sector growth, and the resulting negative pressures of Un-employment is currently gripping its tight noose around Assam.

Rulers cant afford to behave like capitalists gunning and calculating for immediate profits. That's feasible only for commerce and businesses. There lies the tragedy gripping the land of red river and blue hills.

It is time to reflect and act for everyone Assamese all over the globe, to add economic value in Assam, to protect its rich Arts and Culture and to take Assam into a higher growth trajectory.