Monday, August 28, 2006

Corporate Strategy #583 - the Bullshit Bingo

This fairly comprehensive post reminded me of a minor skirmish with the corporate world.

We'd signed on McKinsey & Co. for a study of two sectors in the state. What they would call a major engagement - a team of six Bright Young Things working full-time out of our office for over a year, with a visiting Associate or Headless Honcho or Local Ringmeister or whatever they call it. Even an unsmiling Junior Partner who dropped by once in a while and "set up meetings" all over the place. Barrel-loads of corporate energy. All in all, a pleasant and productive experience working with sharp hard-working young people.

By the end of the first week I'd got used to e-mails and early morning phone calls that "set up team meetings". From my point of view (i.e., "where I was coming from"), this was Weirdissimus Grandoso. They were on the first floor, I was on the third. All they had to do was walk up and talk over a cup of coffee. (And chocolate biscuits. Parle "Hide & Seek". Very nice, except that three of the six were on the Atkins' Diet.) Just another aspect of their "professionalism".

I could not get used to their B-school jargon. For examples, check out Corporate Whore's post.
If they couldn't tell me what they meant in simple English, or Hindi or Bangla, if they had to invent a whole new language for it, the chances were very high that they didn't know what they wanted to say.

I told them so. They smiled in pitying fashion, as who should say, "These Gorment babus, educating them is half our job!"

Week Two. Team meeting set up in my room. I armed myself with strong ammunition. A sheet of paper with a 5x5 grid of large squares.
Explanation - this is the "Bullshit Bingo".* Every time they used one of their B-school catch-phrases - incentivise, leverage, take it out of the loop, closure, apples to apples - I would write it down in one of the squares. Position depended on who used the term; if it was somebody on my right, I filled in a right-hand square and so on.
They were mystified.
Until I explained.
As soon as I had filled five squares in a row in any direction - vertically, horizontally or diagonally - I would say "Bullshit! This meeting's over!"

That was a very brief meeting. It took them a week to manage their bruised egos and come back to me. But it worked. From then on, we spoke plain English.

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* - Link courtesy Dhoomketu


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Sunday, August 27, 2006


Discovered the significance of "French military defeat", "liar" and (above all) "asshole" as divined by the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Don't cry, baby, don't cry

There was a time when I was sixteen and my creative juices overflowed like nobody’s business
Which led to a high turnover in hankies, not to mention a certain dizziness
But more than groaning, more than spots, more than the tendency to turn red and make small yipping noises when my wife-to-be wore her corduroy pants,
More than the inability to actually appreciate anything other than doggerel such as Ogden Nash writing about the inner angst of industrious ants,
More than just about anything else, this embarrassing
Excess of hormonal productivity led to my harassing
Certain unfortunate classmates with poetry. Or what I called poetry because
I didn’t care to admit that as a poet I was a total loss.

Because I tried to Use Big Words and I tried to Sound Profound
Neither of which makes much sense when one is the most superficial sod around.
And I tried to be clever and I tried to be witty
And other stupid people encouraged me, more’s the pity.
So I spent five years or so doing very stupid things like entering for competitions in creative writing
When I should have been busy with healthy uncomplicated male things, like hitting a ball or scratching myself in public or just fighting.
This had several side-effects, all of them unfortunate.
Where I should have been comparatively carefree and occasionally (in my pleadings with ladies, for example) importunate,
I ended up with intellectual ambitions and an air of being constipatedly superior
Which did nobody any good and gave me the general demeanour of a sat-upon posterior

As time wore on I realised that I would never be a Nobel Prize contender
In fact I could not even aspire to be an Asian-Age-short-story-competition pretender
So, albeit reluctantly, I stopped mass-producing merde and switched to more productive things
Like exams, passing and job, getting (one may “pliss excoos” this lapse into rhyme-scheme, for the purpose of, words-backwards-putting)
For years thereafter I was this nice dull file-pusher and my life was comparatively placid.
Then I discovered the Internet and it was like a large injection of formic acid.
Quite apart from Google searches for … well, never mind,
And the subsequent subconscious guilt pangs and fears of going blind,
This business of surfing when I should have been working did not augur
Well. Ere long, literary longings re-surfaced and I became a blogger.

For two years now I have churned out post after post
And though I am nowhere near as prolific as most,
At least I don’t write my posts in SMS-ese or describe in detail my last trip through Sion-Koliwada
Or spend 2000 words describing the love-life of my puppies and finish the post with “yadda yadda”.
I am aware that my blog lacks the cachet of being erudite in any way or even faintly libertarian
I don’t link to The New Yorker. I don’t party at TC. I don’t have a PhD thesis. I’m far from being Uncut, in fact I’m more of a “no-hair-ian”.
I can’t hand out tips on picking up women, I’m not an erudite economist with comic-book panache,
I don’t know where I can pick up good weed, let alone post about sharing my stash.
I last read a book some years ago and I have no idea of the Booker short-list
I know little or nothing about world cinema though I do know that Hitchcock did not make “The Shootist”
In fact I can’t even hold forth on the filmography of Mithun Chakraborty so I am definitely not a cineaste
I don’t surf the Net enough to find weird or learned articles and even if I did I couldn’t make witty comments about them, all I can aspire to is cut-paste
I don’t have a secret identity as a call-girl, nor am I a leading literary critic
I can’t be a youthful investigative curry because when I make allegations I can’t make them stick.

I freely admit that my blog isn’t the biggest thing since Desibaba, it can’t even claim a wardrobe malfunction
But even so, it’s my blog and I love it even if it’s ugly and cross-eyed and I don’t want it to suffer from feelings of rejection
So when I find that it has not been shortlisted for the Best Indian Blog by the Asian Blog Awards I feel like a father whose child has been left out of the cast for the school play
And my first reaction is emotional and I mutter dark threats about suing them and making them pay.
After all with only a couple of million blogs from
India they could well have emulated the Pharakgandh Screen and Telly Awards and created award categories to accommodate everyone
They should understand that this whole elitist approach of shortlisting less than a dozen blogs is Just Not Done.
Therefore I shall console my blog with the inalienable truth that we have known all along,
To wit, that it is the Best Blog ever written by this Sad Old Bong.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stupidity ...

... and Darrell Hair is not the only man guilty of it. He was just the first one, last Sunday, to set Stupid-Ball rolling (a Hair-ball, perhaps).

As a mere 784 different columnists and TV analysts have pointed out, there were 26 cameras covering that match and not one of them captured any footage that might suggest that the fielding team had tampered with the ball. Yet Doctrove suspected that the ball had been tampered with. Talked to Big Brother Darrell. And cricket had a bad hair day.

Consider Darrell’s options. He has a walkie-talkie which he can use to communicate with two other umpires AND the match referee. Does he call for back-up? For a second opinion? We don’t know, since they won’t say, but the evidence of the cameras suggests that he did not. Stupidity 1, Common Sense 0.

Does he talk to Inzamam and show him the ball’s surface, or ask him what caused the wear that might be considered suspicious. He does not. (This we know).

Does he walk over to the boundary, ringed with ad hoardings and concrete gutters, to check whether those might have scuffed the ball? He does not. Stupidity keeps scoring.

No, our man takes his decision alone and awards 5 runs to the Brits on grounds of ball-tampering. Mind you, he had not till that point seen fit to inform the captain of the fielding team that he considered them to be cheats and was taking action accordingly. It was only when Inzy shambled over and asked, that he was told what was going on. Stupidity, by this time, is so far ahead of the field that one would have thought it didn’t need any further help.

But wait. It gets better. Or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Our large sloth-bear of a Paki captain is rather like a road-roller on a downhill slope. It takes some time to build up speed, but after that it takes a lot of stopping. Inzy boiled until the tea-break, then fumed and decided to protest. Protest? I suspect the Pak team decided that enough was enough and they didn’t want to play any more. Rather like Gavaskar on that day in Melbourne in 1981, except that Pakistan didn’t have a Durrani on the spot to sort things out. By the time sanity – or conventional wisdom – returned, the umpires had been out to the middle, the fielding team had not turned up, the bails had been removed and the match had been forfeited.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s the rules, stupid. The rule-book does not say that the umpires have to come and cajole you to play. The Pak team took a decision. The team management should either have sent them out on the field immediately after tea, so that they did not forfeit the match, or they should have stuck by their guns and refused to take the field at all. By reversing their decision (which is what seems to have happened, Inzy’s story of “registering a protest through delay” is not very credible, nobody can be that stupid), they have lost some of the moral high ground. Pity. One would have expected better of the great Zed.

Oh, it gets even messier. Shahid Afridi – not exactly Mensa material even on a cricket field – goes on camera with revelations of how ball-tampering happens and how he believes that reverse swing is not possible without some tampering. Ye gods and little fishes!

But actually really truly deeply, the original stupidity can be traced to the ICC. This is a man who is regarded as racist or at the very least unfair to teams “of colour”. Was there no other umpire they could have appointed for this series? Or did they just want to prove that it’s their bailiwick and they can do what they damn well please? They may find themselves proven wrong. If Pakistan pull out alleging racism, India cannot afford to be seen siding with the likes of Speed and Hair. Things could get a lot worse before they start getting better.

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And oh, since we were talking about pig-headedness … The good news is that just about anybody can be a performing artist. Given sufficient strength in the trapezoids, erector spinnae and glutes, this is a surefire way to bring home the bacon. But wait, what if the single paying customer falls sick?

Perhaps they could offer to perform at the Oval for the fifth-day spectators.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fevered outpourings on a Sunday morning

Did the Government really give in to public opinion? Was Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death the reason for the change of stance on the Right to Information Act, or was it just happenstance? We would like to think that the pressure of public opinion caused the change, but since I am a cynical old cuss, I have my doubts. In any case, all that the Government has said so far is that they will not push through the amendments without placing them for debate in the House. My fingers are still crossed.

Dilip D’Souza was the first to ask me what I thought about the proposed amendment to the RTI Act. The Government had apparently proposed that notings in files should not be revealed to the inquiring public. This was of course a Humphreyan master-stroke. I can just picture Nigel Hawthorne, eyebrows aquiver with indignation, explaining to Derek Fowlds that his views on transparency were “far from sound”, that revealing the origin of government decisions would herald the end of civilization as he knew it.

I, of course, have no views in the matter. As my friends and colleagues will testify (not!), I am totally faceless, colourless and void of opinions. If, however, I were so indiscreet as to venture an opinion, I might actually chortle with glee now that the proposed amendments have been put on hold. We have always been taught to write “speaking notes” (don’t ask me, it’s one of those phrases, probably a variation of the legal “speaking order”) that clearly explain the reasons for decisions. A lot of us still do that. In other words, what we write in file is meant to stand up to scrutiny. So how does it matter if the general public can see it? In my ‘umble opinion, the only ones who should feel insecure about this provision are the slack, the lazy and the ambiguous. Which would be a good thing, because then we have greater accountability and differentiation. But I’m preaching to the converted, Dilip …

One last thought on this issue. Our Course Director at Mussoorie, a Gujarat cadre officer with a sharp tongue and a firm backbone, held that we in the civil services are paid our salaries (such as they are) for one essential reason – to take the responsibility. To carry the can. To stop the buck. The RTI Act is merely an extension of that reasoning.

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Perhaps we should extend the provisions of the Act to the press. Make it obligatory for them to write sense. What does this – the first sentence in the Times of India today, lead storymean … “The invisible hand that pulls the levers of government has moved once again, preventing a proposed amendment to the Right to Information Act to keep file notings out of the public domain and emasculating the core transparency that was needed.

Forget the horrible mixed metaphor (emasculating transparency?). Excuse the confused jargon (“core competence” morphs into “core transparency”). Overlook the clumsy attempt to punch three sentences into one. (Strunk & White, Strunk & White .. Keep It Short!). They actually lost track of the relation between the subject and the conditional clause, changed “that would have emasculated” to “and emasculating” and thus totally reversed the meaning. As it now stands, the sentence means that the government’s present decision emasculates the Act

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In Mahim and Dadar, thousands rush to drink sewage. The Mithi Creek turns meetha (sweet). Next stop, Surat. Every day in every way the world corroborates my theory that 98% of the human race are morons.

Meanwhile, Barkha Dutt interviews Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan on weighty issues such as infidelity. No, not in their own beautiful relationship (good shot, Joy Orzoon), which has given us hour upon hour of wholesome cinematic rubbish that’s all about boring your family. They’re talking about marital infidelity. By the same reasoning, Anthony Quinn was an explosives expert and Russell Crowe a math wizard.

I must confess I’m not immune to a little infidelity myself. Despite my oft-declared devotion to Mallika Sarabai (NOT Sherawat!) and Salma Hayek, I have on occasion gazed long and lasciviously on Yana Gupta (in the manner of a Colonel Blimp who harrumphs “Fine young filly, eh?”). I am in fact undecided as to whether I should resent Vijay Mallya or Aftab Shivdasani more. At this moment, however, I am totally in love with another. Or rather, in leurrve. Vith Leo-leh Kwotty, Quayne ev Hay-urds, who iz zimbly veunderflll. Vott a vumman, no? I believe Channel V will soon release a “Best of Lola Kutty” package. Ay ken hay-urdlee vayte.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Surf's up

Aching with a stupid fever, shying away from my study where my helpful colleagues (I so lurrvve them – sods!) have dumped a truckload of files, what can I do while I loll in bed like a particularly repulsive beached whale?

Surf, of course.

To find that life gets bleaker. Especially if you want to surf in the air. I can just imagine my more obsessive blogger friends weeping great hot tears up in the clouds. Wait, acid rain?

In other news, it is confirmed that the Aussies are crazy. And that Crocodile Dundee was a merman.

For those of us who keenly analyse the media, HT Online has a regular page of grave import. Poor things, they all look sad and malnourished.

But in the best find of the week, a couple of JUDE-eans share their linguistic ecstasy with the cyber-world. Hum je ki bhaabe bujhaayega era kitnaa mohot karjyo kora hai, jisko bolta hai shokh kaa praan Gorh ka math bon gaya.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Devouring Faith

The western reaches of our country have been slightly damp over these last few weeks. This has earned the ire of our most popular Chief Minister who, as we all know (or should know), firmly believes in dry days. When reports last came in by messenger dolphin, he was busy being ignorant of an outpouring of popular sentiment that would set upon the South-Western Monsoon with burning tyres, Molotov cocktails and other assorted instruments of peaceful protest. The implementation of this non-plan has been slightly delayed while a group of concerned pseudo-intelligentsia search for a bakery in the clouds – bakeries being, as recent history has shown, the natural haunts of that virulently anti-national species, the pseudo-secularist.

Our Man of the Moment is not, however, idle during this waiting period. We are informed that he has served an ultimatum to the Govt. of India with regard to the structure hitherto known as the Taj Mahal. They are to publish the real history of the edifice and make known to the world at large that it was originally the tomb of Samudragupta (a seafarer and explorer of true India, known in his day for the discovery of the Black Sea which he named Kala Pani. When this water-body later migrated to the immediate west of the Indian sub-continent, probably due to a conspiracy among some anti-national forces, he was among the first to call for its excommunication from the Hindu pantheon). The structure will thereafter be known as Samudra Samsara Samadhi Samugam or ssss, an onomatoepic approximation of what the popular Chief Minister would like to do Bipan Chandra. Alternatively, the Govt. must allow it to be torn brick from brick by a group of altruistic volunteers who will not accept even their train fare from places as remote as Azamgarh, Balliya and Rae Bareilly.

While He has given the Govt. reasonable time to choose either of these eminently reasonable options, they must in any case immediately start painting it saffron.

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In Delhi, meanwhile, the Bearded One has convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to debate the demand of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This sect has garnered adherents worldwide over the last two years and now demand for their Godhead runway space on Rajpath when S/He comes in to land on 1st April. In a reasoned letter to the Prime Minister, they have pointed out that this is hardly an unreasonable request considering the fact that “a certain minority” are allowed to pray on public thoroughfares throughout the country at least twice a year, as also to play their calls to prayer over loudspeakers at about twice the permitted decibel level. (The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [or CFSM] is not at this point of time interested in other minutiae such as the right to marry several times [holding that the act is its own punishment] but are examining with interest the minority arrangements for divorce.)

The CSFM have informed the PMO that the landing arrangements are essential because on that date the Great FSM will reveal to true believers the nature of its landing gear, which may provide answers to theological mysteries like the Sex of the Great Monster and also Whether Meatballs are to be Soaked in Sauce or Added Dry. In the event that the Indian Government does not grant this reasonable request, they state, they fear that their God may release 570 billion gallons of meat sauce on South Block and also emit an enormous low-frequency sound while overflying Delhi. (The closest approximation of this sound in human experience is the Honourable Speaker calling for order on a Bad Day in Parliament. Multiplied to divine levels, it is likely to cause severe structural damage).

The meeting of the NSC will be held as soon as the PMO kitchen staff have perfected a working model of the Flying Spaghetti Monster complete with landing gear. This may take a few weeks as Many Bunker Fryer has opined that vegetarians cannot analyse this threat through soya-bean mock-ups and the post of Director NSA must henceforth be reserved for Punjabis or Nagas. Toilyo Byanjan Gas Banshee and Probe Bookerjee have thereafter filed a joint PIL alleging discrimination against fish-eating ethnic groups.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Each to each ... [1]

“Why did you not tell me you are beautiful?” [2]

A hotel room high above the golf course. The picture window looks out over miles of treetops to a semi-circle of horizon. West by north-west, the eye travels from the bulk of the Meridien to the concrete outcrops around Connaught Place. In between, the domes of Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North Block muse serenely into the sky. Nearer me, a huge squared block of masonry, unrecognisable at first, suddenly comes into focus as India Gate in profile. On every side shades of green flow towards the horizon with barely a house-top breaking the surface. Far away to my right, the Purana Qila hunches its battered shoulders against the skyline. Two dazzling white domes break free of the concrete swarm somewhere beyond the railway station. Right in front of my window, a willow flirts with the breeze, swaying, changing colour in rippling sheets. And overarching all, a sky-full of monsoon greys and washed blue, highlighted by the occasional shaft of cloud-fallen light.

This is Delhi?!

The vista changed with the light, from the flat sharp lines of morning through the shadowed contrasts of high noon to the long soft gold of a summer evening. I hated having to leave that room. And driving from one meeting to another, I really looked at the wide leafy avenues of Lutyens’ city. Over the walls and the bamboo fences, through the screens of foliage, up above the flat roofs and the dish antennae to the cloud-washed blue of August. Dammit, this city is beautiful in parts.

Of course, only in parts. If one overlooks the eczema of rubbish heaps along the Yamuna, the rubble, the peeling houses, the hungry dogs, the scattered pipes when one leaves the Avenues of the Little Tin Gods.

But I didn’t mean to bitch about Delhi, I meant to pay it fulsome compliments.

Perhaps I’m a little jealous on behalf of my beloved Calcutta. I’ve never really thought about whether she’s beautiful, she’s just been more fun than any other place I know. Like a favourite aunt, or that friend who’s so vivacious that you never stop to think whether she’s actually hot. Now when I consider it dispassionately, I know that my city won’t make it on looks alone, not even if one considers only the prettier neighbourhoods. Not even the narrow sunlit lanes on a winter morning, or the lights across the Maidan as I drive home across the new Hooghly Bridge.. Delhi can take each of these and trump it with another vista far more stunning. And Bombay can afford to flash its Necklace and look away in quiet triumph.

Well, so what? I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Or would I? The Better Half loved London. Said it’s like Calcutta all spruced and polished (this was one September, after the litter of the tourist season had been cleared up and the corners de-pissed). I loved Paris – like Catherine Deneuve, utterly irresistible, very gracious, but always a hint of coolness that says “After all, I am the world’s most desirable!” We both loved New York … a feisty broth of a city that’s somewhere between Bangaal fishwife, Irish colleen, Polish tramp and cold-eyed Dutch burgher, but somehow greater than the sum of all these parts. But would we live there? London, just maybe. None of the others, and certainly not in the arms of that archetypal whore-with-a-heart-of-gold who husks her seduction by the Arabian Sea.

But we were in Delhi … I came back to my room late in the evening and I …. well, sat by the window and watched the cars roll by (I do quote that song far too often. Whattodo, universally applicable line). Soft darkness lay in layers beyond the circle of the hotel lights, beyond the dazzling blue of the swimming pool and the muted lamps in the driveway. Far away the office blocks glimmered a little forbiddingly, like a space-port of the Sith Lords. A streak of light lay across the southern horizon - perhaps the airport, perhaps just another urban village. Lights winked through the trees below as traffic crowded the roads well after midnight. This city sleeps late.

There’s a special loneliness about a hotel room, part empty bed and silent phone, part impersonal luxury that you know will belong to someone else once you step out of the door. Especially when you wake from fitful sleep in the middle of the night and debate whether it’s too late to call a friend. The room is a surreal film-set in the half-light of the night-lamp, an alien environment that has suddenly invaded your space. I gave up on sleep and sat by my picture-window with a large mug of coffee and a packet of cigarettes. Musing. Upon the stories in that dark half-circle spread out on view below, that surprising face of beauty on a city that I have long disliked.

Who would have thought Delhi could be so beautiful?!

[1] - Far from felicitous, not only because it's from one of Kipling's stiffer efforts but also because it's titled "To the City of Bombay"

- An Academic Friend dismissed “A Florentine Tragedy” as an “awful Jacobean pastiche”. I was most awf'ly impressed, but I still like those last two lines.

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