Indian Concept of Time – IST.

For a race that lays the utmost emphasis on the most auspicious moment to commence any project or venture and factors in a persons time of birth to the alignment of heavenly bodies, we gleefully abandon these tenets when it comes to delivering on a promise. So particular are we that even when we fast, the breaking of the fast must happen during a predetermined window, usually no more than a few minutes.

We are a nation of several paradoxes, and to my mind this is our crowing glory. On the one hand this obsession with commencing and completing all auspicious and important things within a prescribed timeframe, and on the other hand completely ingoring this indoctrination in our day to day activities.

It is little wonder then that IST is equated to Indian Stretchy Time!

By what time will you reach? “Oh just five minutes” and you then wait twenty and you hear a long list of reasons why five minutes was not five minutes. Should you be the kind to have this compelling need to question further, you will most certainly get this response, “Sirji, voh kya hua ki raaste me kuch problem hua, is liye”, translating to, Sir, I have some problem on the way. Keep it as vague as you possibly can, that’s the way to respond to bosses why dare ask probing questions whey you are late, I mean how dare they!

Someone fixes an appointment and you call and ask, Where are you? “Right around the Corner”. Guess what! Your question was incorrect, or rather incomplete, or you didn’t follow it up with the next question. Which corner? And this is why you ended up waiting thirty minutes for him or her to turn the corner.

By when can I get this? “Abhi Sir”! Right away! Or “Bas, turant kar deta Hoon”, or I’ll do it immediately. Or the more pragmatic ones (like me), give a reasonable timeframe, a plausible one, one that is quite acceptable.

In that respect we surpass by no mean measure, the American “gungho”, “shoot first ask questions later” or also called the “can do” attitiude, when we say yes, can do and will do immediately.

Then comes the question, are you sure? And then we have moved from certainity to shaky ground. Why? Simply because we regress (throwing said pragmatism) out the window or door or any little crack or cranny we find. For more often than not, the response to the question that questions our commitments, is “yes sar or sirji (depending on which part of the country said person is), 101 takka” or 101%, causing whoever formulated the % system (don’t ask me – I forget) to balk, turn in their graves, or if he/she was a Hindu, abandon all equanimity in the heavens, and throw fifty fits.

Where did we ever come up with the additional 1%, doesn’t quite compute or fall under any real system that stacks up the odds.

Me? I take it to extremes when it comes to adding percentages that don’t compute and I start wtih a low of 101% and then up the ante to 150%, 200% and 250%, which is nothing but the likely hood that it’s not gonna happen. So the higher the noncompute the higher the likely hood that it ain’t happening! Look, its fairly simple. If you’re going to go around throwing inverse probability numbers dealing with the likely hood of something not getting done, why go with a small number right? Think big! But even I have not yet dared go beyond 250% and I’m known to have a big pair.

This beautifully simple system has been known to work flawlessly and therefore it’s hardly surprising that it’s been wholeheartedly adopted by all professions, all strata of our social fabric, from lawyers, doctors, chauffeurs, maids, blue collars, white collars, from CEOs to the security guard. And of course by all genders! Oh yes! I forgot about the politicians completely, who have honed an already perfect system into a fine art.

Having been immersed in some way, shape or form in Fintech for many many years (more than I’d like to recall), I’ve balked at delivery dates, effort estimates and in general the super overoptimism that has greeted me whenever I’ve asked for numbers.

So when I get estimates, or really guestimates from teams I’ve kinda learned that either of two things will happen. One, the estimates are humbug and aren’t really based on any real semblance of analysis. Or two, that they come  heavily padded (to compensate for the lack of analysis).

This makes life really interesting and fun, especially when youre the Johnney making commitments sideways, downwards or upwards. You’re flying very blind, and just made a committment based on a committment, so double whammy! They pad, you pad, everybody pads and the final recipient (poor sod) has just gone out on a limb and told the powers that be that the final date is X. Well, guess what! The X (supposing to be a line in the sand) is based on shifting sands, so by extension, will the line in the sand not shift as well! But if poor sod is a smart cookie, he/she (yes sod can be a she, so let’s include Jane) has embraced the padding methodology wholeheartedly and added some more, setting into motion a domino effect of epic proportions.

Then there is the exact converse. We grossly underestimate and we base everything on incomplete information. So now the effect is also epic domino but in reverse. We are all set to deliver and even meet the due date, but on said date we discover we did not know everything, we did not ask the right questions and worse, we just ignored what we already know and based everything on our own assumptions and/or understanding. Interpretation extreme.

I guess that’s what makes me precious. I manage things that are broken and get them to work. Well, I try. I’m a good magician, but I’m not perfect. More on this as we progress…

Regardles of the padding or lack of it, promised date has arrived, or perhaps the day before (if you’re lucky) and someone will summon the courage (maybe he had a gun pointed to his head), will sheepishly come to you quavering like a leaf in a storm, and after several attempts, just about manage to let you know that it is you who must now deliver the message that said commitment, said event, said delivery ain’t really happening. “Sar or Sirji, as the case may be, I want to tell you something”, and in my mind I’m going, do I have STUPID etched on my forehead? Just out with already, and to add effect, I have been known to say, “so its not happening is it?”, even before the words are uttered.

The mixed look of wonder, amazement and fear needs to be seen to be believed. “Sar or Sirji, how you know?”, and again I’m going, do I have……but inwardly I’m in splits laughing, like I didn’t know this was going to happen!

We’re Indians, Krishna says in the Bhagavat-Gita, “I am infallible time”. Guess what my Dear Lord and Master, you’ve been outdone. Your so called Kal Chakra, the infallible Circle of Time has slowed down a tad. Go figure, you created someone who outdid the master.

The logical progress to these proceedings is the post mortem, or what I’d like to call the process that got instituted since said minion allowed the patient to die. Patient will die my friend, let’s do something. “Sar (let’s not forget Sirji) don’t worry, I will breathe life into the dead, Abhi karta Hoon”, I will do it right away”.

So if you are of stronger mettle or have more patience than I do, you might actually try to ask or even hazzard a guess as to what led to this meltdown. “Sir or Sirji, I was unwell, my team was unwell, I told so and so to do it, he didn’t do it, my brothers wife’s sisters husband’s grandfather died Sar, I have to go “native” (read that as home town), or sirji I have to go to desh (read that as home town as well), or Sir I have to go to my gaon (read that as home town as well)”. You really can’t argue with the need to go see the dead remains of such a close relative, so being the genteel Indians we are, I must ask, ok so when will you and your team be back from “native”? “Don’t know sar or sirji, when they let me go (they will be kept captive, in chains)”.

When said captives are released from their cages, you ask for a RCA or what sane people call Root Cause Analysis. The responses are nothing short of drivel and you had better be clarivoyant or at the very least have a very very fertile imagination to figure out the root cause. Why? Cause we are all such loyal soldiers, that we just don’t want to spill the beans on why it went bust. A Grade for loyalty and taking one for the team, but you just flunked the larger need to understand why thing went awry in the first place.

Now you have this root cause kinda figured out or at least some semblance of an RCA. Spindoctor (always me) has to convey this to the party of the other part (aggrieved party), as blood is being demanded. I tell you, my verbal and written jousting skills are probably in a league by themselves, as is my knowledge of verbal Jiu Jitsu. So now you see why I’m precious? Not because of the oodles of experience I bring to the table, but to be the frontline when something is broken.

I live alone so have plenty of time to reflect and therefore I reflect, I question, I ponder, I wonder, why are we like this! When my numbed mind works (yes on rare occassions) it does come up with some answers.

  • We Indians don’t know how to say NO (remember the Can Do I alluded to earlier).
  • We don’t like to say we don’t know something, loss of face you see.
  • We don’t like to follow a process.
  • We don’t like to seek help (superheros all).
  • We hate to admit we are wrong.
  • We take everything personally, even it it’s feedback well intended.
  • We don’t like to be answerable.
  • We don’t take the trouble to listen.
  • We don’t bother to read pre-read materials before meetings. How much more can you insult someone who takes the trouble to prepare materials, write detailed mails, only to realise that nobody even bothered to read or prep. Bosses who asked for said information in the first place, included.
  • We ignore disclosed facts and instead choose to make important decisions on assumptions. I mean, its great to be able to make assumptions, but can we simultaneously bother to validate those assumptions?
  • We don’t like to document anything. Have you sent a mail? “No Sar I called him”. Fuc***, shit is gonna go down or hit the ceiling, you had better be using written comms. But no, I spoke to him. I messaged one on one.
  • I did not escalate as I’m a friggin coward and don’t want to spoil relations or make the other person feel bad. Grandmother’s frigging lollies! I ain’t buying this.
  • The real reason is that I am not sure of myself or not on top of my game, and if I escalate now, there will be a time when I fucked up and someone will be sticking it to me. That’s the real reason!

Now if above set of facts is correct, we have a recepie for disaster an initio.

There are some smart ones who are good at words, at jiu jitsu, and the moment we realise that it ain’t happening, out brains churn into high gear and we come up with wholely plausible and believable reasons why said commitment wasn’t kept. Clear written communications crafted with the objective of facilitating an outcome. That’s the ticket.

Anybody who interacts with me and does me that extreme honor of lipservice, leaves my desk with NLP scribbled on a scrap of paper, and scraps of paper tend to get discarded, so the scribbling was just to humor me. So much for the earnest advise to learn and practice Neuro Linguistic Programming.

I’m good with words, sure, but it’s not just a vocabulary thing. It’s clarity of thought and an ability to assimilate things quickly and react instantaneously. After all we are in an era where we do business at the speed of thought.

That’s another recommendation that gets scribbled on said scrap. Read “Business At The Speed of Thought”. Bill Gates, none other. As always scribbling is for effect, nothing is going to come of it.

Speed, Time, SLA, TAT, Communications, Social Media, Internet, Wi-Fi, all part of our day to day, but do we use this to our advantage? No no, I will use these wonderful aids only and solely for keeping up with my Social Media accounts.

I’d emphatically propose that few do it and those that do are the ones who rule. The rest follow in their wake, or then fall by the wayside trying and yet there are others who don’t even try.

As an Indian I was really hurt when my tennis coach in high school said something when I showed up 10 minutes late for practice when I was on the school squad. I was 17, an exchange student in America. Tom Andreas look at me, then looked at his watch and said to me, “This is How The American Clock Works, on time. Don’t be late the next time”. I never was.

I too drop the ball from time to time, I too fail occasionally, I too have a tendency not to delegate because I’m not always working with an all A Team. Not so different in that respect, but the difference is I try damn hard not to fail, not to drop the ball, what I need to do more is let people fail, and pick them up and get them to do it right next time around. I’ve been getting a lot of flack lately for trying to do everything myself and have started to push back shoddy or incomplete work, albeit it just takes so much more time.

Having said all this, I must add disclaimer that this comes from a good place, is well intended.

I must also admit that apart from the morons (yes its a rather strong word) I’ve come across, I have also been most fortunate throughout my professional career, to have discovered and worked with some golden nuggets, wonderful professionals and human beings. To these people I give whatever time I can spare (in office or on my own time) to explain, to teach, to motivate, to chide, to scold, to pat on the back.

These people make all the pain, frustrations and anger go away and leave one with this immense sense of being able to pass on to GenNext, a vast body of knowledge and experience, gathered through an era where there was no cellular, no wifi, no internet. An era where we did things the hard way, no shortcuts, less room to fail and a lot less access to knowledge that we have at our fingertips today

After The Corporate Years #2.

Beyond the large corporates lie really fantastic opportunities, albeit in smaller firms and companies, such as startups.

Having been deeply immersed in the startup ecosystem for the past decade, and during the nascent years of my professional journey, this feeling is solidly confirmed having lived and breathed in it.

As I write about my life and about my professional journey, it dawns upon me that I’ve never actually gone out and looked for a job. Save one time, and that one time was the very first time that I went and worked for someone else as CFO. First job and that as CFO, not bad, eh? Take how I got into ICICI, HSBC, Agile and my current role, all known people, or a friend of a friend, or an ex-colleague and friend.

It also strikes me that there are no coincidences in life, none whatsoever. I think it has more to do with fate, destiny, being in the right place at the right time.

The way I look at almost everything, is slotting all that I end up doing or experiencing, into this rather interesting matrix (not inspired by the movie, by the way). It’s called the Matrix of Six. Yes, you might have guessed. That another piece I’m working on. Soon coming to a blog page near you.

Best I get on with the current role, after that rather long preamble, so this story picks up from the earlier startup experience.

As it happens, during my previous startup role as COO, a friend (ex friend now), called me out of the blue very early one morning and after a rather fake exchange of pleasantries, said he’s working for this guy, someone who he said I knew (I didn’t) from my time in Singapore – Circa 2002/2003. So despite the long silence between us, and a less than cordial relationship post the exing, I agreed to introduce him and his boss to the CEO of the company.

I turns out that Prateek, one of my colleagues (we become close friends) from the Dubai startup, ended up working for Ram before I did. So this Prateek character calls one day as asks to be introduced to decision makers at various banks in India, and I do so devoid of any hesitation, as I’ve always helped friends out no matter what.

Why is this relevant? Simply because that Ram, the one I’d never met, would a few years later come looking for me.

I did open a few doors for Prateek, and once fine day, soon after the door opening part, Ram calls me from Singapore, and says he’s sending me a visa and ticket. What don’t you come down to Singapore for a few days and lets talk about how we can collaborate. If my memory serves me that was in July or August 2017.

If you have read my previous anecdote, you will recall that I had quit this Dubai startup, and was in this “in-between” phase again, the one in which I was part of the startup ecosystem as a mentor. So I was kinda figuring out what to do next, and had a few exciting ideas in mind, including interesting job opportunities. One idea was more exciting than others, and remains something I’d like to do if I ever get an opportunity. That was to set up a platform or a service, to help Indian companies, or any company for that matter, to develop business in Africa, and guide them how to manage African initiatives.

I think, I’ve already mentioned before, that doing business in Africa as a whole, and some countries in APAC is nothing short of a fine art. There is no science in it, just art and finesse.

See? I drifted again, sorry. Anyway, I’m headed to Singapore and Ram has been the perfect host. We talk a lot, about life, personal and professional, we open up to each other. He talks about Bank-Genie, how it started. We drink a bit, we get to know one another, and at some point he kinda pops it on me. Why don’t you come work with us?

The company and its prospects seem quite interesting, well conceptualised, but the role is that of a person who can do some serious heavy lifting. Something I have always done and can do with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but I’m not really looking at a “heavy-lifting” role, so I’m a bit iffy. But all in all and interesting opportunity.

The thing I was quite upfront about is the compensation, and quite transparently I caution him that he should deliberate carefully as I don’t come cheap, and paying me or someone like me, would put a dent in the books.

I head back to India, we keep in touch, we talk numbers, and we go back and forth a lot, we both jockey for position, and finally after being at this for a month we arrive at a middle ground. I agree to a fixed compensation component less than what I want, deserve, am capable of earning, and he takes a couple of steps up, and finally we are agreed on the numbers, and all that remains is to ink the deal.

The other thing that I was a bit concerned about was the location. Mysore! Small town, deep south, nothing much going on, I’m a city boy and have lived and worked in four continents and lived in five major internationally acclaimed cities. How in the name of hell will I live in Mysore? But that’s a non-negotiable item, and so i finally relent. Taking a huge leap of faith, I head on over to Mysore, even before a contract has been signed, and technically I’m on board October 4th.

Four days later I’m headed to Singapore once again, this time to meet the investors who want to eyeball this so called “heavy-hitter”, with the concern that having come from a pedigree international bank, I may not be able to hack the transition to the startup realities. Ha, Ha!!!

I’m presenting a four day view of the company, and what my four day impressions are, what I make of the COO role, and what I think I have cut out for me. The presentation goes down well, and I still have a job (save a little job threatening episode in the first week itself) so I’m guessing I’ve done something right.

It’s now almost two years coming up in a few short weeks, and the journey has been great. Amazing in fact. The company grows from strength to strength…..we have overcome some hairy challenges and taken a few hard knocks, but always rallied and always overcome. The hours are long, the hands a few too less, but do I wake up raring to go? Absolutely! All this combined with visiting and experiencing new countries, is nothing short of a heady mix, a kind of a perpetual high, and no I having been smoking!

Working – The Road Warrior>

We are Now at an inflection point, with tremendous upside.

Along the way, what has built up is trust, a good working relationship, one where the CXO team relies and leverages off the strengths of the others, and compensates where required. The team is superlative in terms of their efforts, loyalty and feeling of belonging, and this is the ONLY place I’ve worked at thus far, where I’ve never had to crack the whip on a development team. The work just gets done, as if by magic, and that’s something that is really rare and something I cherish. I’ve never even had to even once request someone to stay late and finish work, or please come over the weekend. If there is work, nothing needs telling, it just gets done!

Whatever happened to the apprehensions about being based in Mysore? If I say I’m in heaven, that would obviously be a gross misstatement, but what’s not to like? Clean air, almost no traffic, cycling heaven (yes this is in heaven category), heart of Karnatic Music and Arts, peace and quiet to get work done, no long commute to and back from work, really inexpensive, delicious southern cuisine. In short no more apprehension, quite the opposite, I love it!

What next? For me? For Bank-Genie? I guess I’m at an inflection point as well, a fork in the road of sorts. On the one hand I completed fifty seven years this year, so I’d like to sit back, write, ride my bicycle, study, read, mentor, teach Students about the real world they are about to venture into (they are ill equipped to survive and succeed) and distribute the learning’s from a working life that started at the age of 18 years. Whereas on the other hand, I stay the course and bring this baby to term, watch it grow, and once it starts running at speed, recede into the shadows or the background, and be available as a counsel or sounding board as and when called.

All going as planned, I’m leaning more towards bringing the baby to term and beyond as there is real traction here, a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity for everybody at Bank-Genie to fulfil their potential, and an opportunity for Bank-Genie to be recognised as a formidable name as a FinTech that services the needs of banks both big and small, the microfinance eco system, and an opportunity for the CXO team to create a foundation for the nextgen to take to higher levels.

These are opportunities are seldom present themselves at large corporates and are available almost exclusively at the startups, smaller firms and companies, the ones fraught with challenges, yet most satisfying to ones soul. I’d pick a startup any day, and I’d urge students to take up roles at startups, for what you will learn at a startup is something no school will ever come close to teaching, and that is my next blog post. Look out for it. Cheers!

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After The Corporate Years #1.

If I were to capture my professional journey up until this time, this is how I would have to sum it up. Started off flying solo, built an informal network of collaborators which grew into formal associations, reinvention and refinement during market upheavals, founded companies, moved to corporate roles, immersion into the startup ecosystem as mentor and finally back to startup’s. All adding up nicely into an invaluable combination of formal and informal, blended with real world deep immersive learnings and experience across all geographies.

So as you can see, it started off small, and has come full circle to small once again. When I say small, what I allude to is a comparison of the dynamics of startups, vis a vis the scope, sheer complexity, muscle, money power, reach, capability and successes of ICICI and HSBC. I guess “small and “complex” are relative as you look at it from the point of view of someone who has worked in a large corporate and when looked at from the point of view of a promoter or founder.

The stints with the big corporates lasted what like ten years (seems like a lifetime).

Anyway, the first opportunity to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in a startup came almost a year after I left HSBC.

I was back in India, after fantastic international stints at ICICI, starting in Singapore then Abu Dhabi, and with HSBC starting in India, and then doing time in Chicago and London. I’m thinking that I’d lay back, rebuild bridges, get back into the swing of how things worked back home, however, about three months into the sabbatical, I get a call from an ex-colleague, someone I’d stayed in touch with and worked closely with, during my time in the Middle East, with ICICI.

He had started up a fin-tech that was in products and was wondering if I will come join. I was not really looking actively, but in deference to a past professional relationship, I go meet someone that I’m asked to meet. Someone I didn’t connect with. No chemistry, you see. And so I decline despite feeling good about the fact that people remembered my worth and would reach out to me every now and then, both from the head hunting community as well as my ex-colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

Maybe six odd months later, sometime at the fag and of October of 2010, he calls again. He’s signed a really big deal in Nigeria, and needs someone with my skills and experience to drive this, and other initiatives he has in mind. African and Nigeria got me listening, as despite the vast international exposure, Africa was one continent that I’d never worked in.

By now I’ve been spending my time bridge-building with family, friends, chilling, following my passion – cycling, and quite honestly, the knock on the door came at the right time. The timing couldn’t have been more opportune…..I was rearing to get back to work! Qualify that comment though. Here I am thinking that I’d probably work a couple of days a week ….. it is after all just one program management assignment!

But that’s not exactly how it turned out.

The CEO said, go meet the India based ED. I go meet, but I just had this feeling that something was off. But given that I wanted to get back to work and the fact that the one year sabbatical had kinda drained my bank balance and the fact that the numbers in terms of compensation wasn’t too bad, I take the bait and two days after the initial call for help, I come on board.

I’m in the system a few days and figure out that this isn’t going to be consulting or part time in nature, or for that matter a temporary stint. If I have to make this work, it will have to be an all in effort, and I’m never one to go in half hearted, never have been.

I ask for a face to face meeting with the CEO, we talk and pretty soon the remit expands far beyond this programme management involvement, to taking on the Wealth and Fund Management product end to end and in time a whole lot more.

I sort of slid smoothly into the roles, and perhaps the biggest adjustment I had to make is not having the really amazing Executive Assistants I had working for me in HSBC, taking care of all the minutest details, so that I could focus purely on the job at hand. It did take some effort to get back to getting coffee, lunch, etc, etc, for myself yet again, but I guess I did survive that ordeal!

Before you know it, I’ve given the startup seven years of my life, been appointed on the Board of Directors of the Indian and Singapore entities.

Long story short, the seven years haven’t ended well, and finally, much against my will and inclinations, I bail both the company and the directorships, and end up with a fairly substantial hole in the pockets that were supposed to be lined with cash way into their depths? After all, that’s why we go work for startups right? Right?

Staying on in loyalty, despite the cash flow issues are great in terms of committing to a cause, but wreaking all sort of chaos and mayhem.

Ouch! That one really hurt.

Think Black Adder variety hurt …. “At the last it Stingeth Like an Adder and Bitheth like a Serpent”.

Whereas, there were certain events of seismic proportions, there were positives that I am simply compelled to balance both sides of the equation.

  1. By now I’ve become consummate in terms of doing business all across Africa. West, East, South and the Middle East.
  2. Travel was frequent and I added so many new countries to the already long list from the ICICI and HSBC days.
  1. And doing business in Africa isn’t a joke. It is difficult, fraught with risks, and takes nerves of steel, and just dictates that you understand the psychology and DNA of organisations and individuals. It’s a matter of survival, no nicer or gentle way to put it. So notch one up for the African experience.
  1. The remit expands far beyond Wealth and Fund Management, to Insurance, Bancassurance, Lending, Operations, Pre-sales, Legal, and Human Resource’s. So notch one up for cross discipline and cross platform experience.
  2. As far as learning, connections and empowerment are concerned, I have no cause for complaint. So learning galore, stellar senior level connections, and total empowerment.
  3. Forged deep friendships with a couple of colleagues, and one in particular that led to my next role.

Somewhere is 2016, I drop the curtains on that chapter of my professional life and move on.

I spend the year reinventing myself, cycling, reading, listening, learning, getting immersed in the start up ecosystem, but more as a mentor and advisor.

And then it happens again!!!

I am approached to assist with a Singapore based FinTech’s plans to penetrate the India markets. But that’s a new story, and the current chapter of my life.

Let’s end this tale with the first role after my Corporate years, but not before summing up what my years have taught me.

  1. The formative years, probably the first five years during and immediately after school, taught me how to deal with a family business, with imports and exports, international trade, dealing with government departments, legal complexities, labor, costing, financial accounting and taxation. That was when I worked for my father, being groomed to take over his business, being the only son (which for several reasons never did transpire).
  2. The next few years, probably ten years, were spend working for myself, setting up companies and investment trusts in India and Mauritius, financial advisory, funds syndication, fund management, dealing with the worst stock market debacle in Indian history and in general learning skills (unknowingly) that would enable me to enter the corporate mainstream.
  3. Perhaps during this time, the greatest experience in terms of witnessing change was the Indian Stock Markets shifting gear and moving from manual, ring based, open outcry to electronic trading systems.
  4. The next year, and I mention this specifically, was my first job as an official in a body corporate, as CFO. The primary learning from this was dealing with a Demerger and all of the complexities that accompany such a decision on the financial and legal fronts.
  5. Ceasing my association with the CFO role coincided with the fag end of the tech boom, and once again time at hand to sit back and figure out what next.
  6. The next was this colossal misadventure into the food business.
  7. The next ten years precisely, were spent in the large corporate mainstream, with tremendous and deep international exposure, where the greatest learning without a doubt, came from the travel and international financial services business. Learning how the rest of the world worked, how it approached business, how people issues are dealt with, and the crowning glory was regional and cultural diversity.
  8. Done with the mainstream transnational corporate life, I now have a ringside view and quite a few bouts in the ring itself, learning and dealing with the risks, responsibilities, the opportunities, the good, bad, ugly about working for startups.

I will end by saying that the tale keeps unfolding, I keep documenting and I dare say, they will continue to be written, with this, hopefully the first in a series on the Startup ecosystem, this time not as mentor and advisor, but as an insider.

The Making of a Photographer.

Circa 2007/8: Krishanu takes a liking to photography. Cut to September 2018, Krishanu opens up his work, albeit a limited selection, to one and all. He actually says we are free to share, so sharing I am.

Please visit http://krishanunagar.com.

And therein lies a story that needs to tell itself.

Apologies baba (that’s what I call him), I wanted to share this beautiful piece of work, but not just share, I wanted to do it properly.

Therefore this post, telling the back story.

Of course the bio on your website is beautifully written, explaining the why, the emotions, the sentiments. But I’m Bhai, and I can’t help but tell the back story.

Now then, the back story.

I’m based in London around that Circa, and have made a flying visit to Bombay. Krishanu is studying at Uni. One night sometime around dinner time he says, Bhai, can we go out and get a coffee after dinner?

I go like, sure we can do that. I’ve be there, done that, and when a college going son, says let’s go grab coffee in a certain kind of tone, it triggers, sets off certain alarm bells. Hmmm, you’re dying to ask, so what do you want to talk about. But you don’t, you act all cool and casual, not revealing that deep down there is this certain sense of dread, God, what’s on the cards.

Some of you parents out there, will be going. Ditto. I know what this chappie is saying.

This reminds me of of the time when Bhavna and Shruti casually invite me to lunch, and at the lunch table, without any prompting or previous knowledge I ask them, so who’s the guy? Alluding to the guy my sister had taken a liking to and needed my nod, therefore the lunch set up between sisters in law against the brother and husband. But that’s another story, and I think I’ve told it a few times, though maybe not here. I always have this inkling and can read what’s headed my way.

Back to The Krishanu and said coffee grabbing.

We are done with dinner and amble down the road to my fav coffee place, Gloria Jeans, a cafe of many memories and nostalgia.

Coffee is ordered, we are sitting on the ledge outside coffee shop, and after a brief silence, The Krishanu goes like this….

Bhai, I don’t want to continue Uni, my mind’s just not in it. Just like that!

Now if you know anything about anything, and some of you may know something about something, you will fully understand what crossed through my mind. And if you’re an Indian parent, then take the thoughts that would cross any parents mind and multiply those thoughts by a few more factors.

The fact that he wanted to quit studying bothered me none at all. What was foremost in my mind is the aftermath this announcement would unleash amongst a lot of quarters. The first being the lads mother, Bhavna. The other bring the lads paternal grandmother, called lovingly as The Mother, or The Higher Authority. My father. And not to forget the maternal grandparents.

And guess who would be navigating this minefield? Yours truly. I swear, that’s the only thought that was in my mind.

I can say with my hand on my heart, that I was, have been, do and will always support Krishanu’s decision and his courage to make that decision. And that’s what I told everyone. That we should admire his courage to go off the oft trodden path and take up something that he wanted to do.

But I also had to play dad, and dad I did play. Have you thought it through? What makes you think you’re cut out for this? What makes you think you will make it? It’s not an easy line. In India such professions don’t always pay off. Maybe you should finish school and do this in parallel. Merely holding a DSLR does not a photographer make. You get my drift?

He was steadfast, no school, mind not in school, can’t hack it, only Photography. Result? I’m left fielding the aftermath.

And so it begins. Conversation after conversation. His Mother, my Mother, My Father, his maternal grandparents. It wasn’t pretty, but I prevailed. The most supportive of them all being my dad. My dear departed dad.

There have been many a time when I’ve questioned my decision to support Krishanu. Did I do the right thing? Did I do him a disservice by not being firm and forcing him to finish Uni, a point or view strongly held by Bhavna back then.

Over the years he’s done so many courses, done a few gigs, taken some beautiful pictures. And I’ve been asking him for years, to publish, to open up his work to the world. He wouldn’t do it. I even created a blogsite for him years ago, he never put anything on it. He wasn’t ready.

A few months ago he says he’s building a website and I’m going like right. Let’s see when that sees the light of day.

Guess what, it has seen light of day. It’s up, it’s in the public domain. I’m proud. I’m proud because I think the bug bit him when he was with me in the UK to spend his 18th birthday with me.

And that’s the back story behind http://krishanunagar.com.

Well done baba, well done. I just wish you’d put a lot more of your fantastic work up there real soon. Keep the site current, update frequently, publish updates often. Aggressively promote your beautiful work.

Pondering

All,

Welcome Enna, who has just published her first article. I’m proud to say that I’ve been an inspiration of sorts to her and when she sent me the link to her first published post, it felt great.

Do read: https://wp.me/pa0tNO-a

Sumir.

Indians – Have we no Pride?

An Indian (unknown to me) set me off last night.

Between place of residence, place of work and business trips, I have done about forty countries. Give or take. Take away my outward appearance and a somewhat westernized style that has come out of extended and extensive international exposure….cut me, I bleed Indian. Therefore, the stupidity, the attitude and the content of the overheard discussion (I know, I know – eavesdropping – not good), but this guy was on a roll and a tad too audible. He cut me, indirectly, I bled. Indian. It’s that simple.

So the whole story….

A four-hour bus journey on the back of a red-eye flight (red-eye plus delay not a good combination), saw a sleep depraved self, extracting everything I had in me, to function optimally at work on the morning of the night before. So I knocked off work, thirty minutes before the usual nineteen thirty hours, and decided I needed to grab a bite before I hit the sack earlier than the norm. It’s altogether another matter that I managed to sleep but two hours before I was wide awake watching a Netflix original, The Outsider, before I went back to sleep at four am. Only to be up again at six thirty.

So this grabbing of a bite on the evening of the day after, took place at this open air restaurant at The Metropole, one of my favorite haunts. Beautiful weather, lovely breeze, and me seated at my preferred table, promised a good bite, and possibly deep sleep.

Chinese I decided, and proceeded to order, but the Maitre’D recommended against Chinese. “Sar”, he went, “Chinese chef nat well only”, and some more valuable input, “Sar, assistant cooking, nat gud”. So out with Chinese and in with a mix of continental Cream of Vegetable soup, and Indian Vegetarian Kofta Curry (red), accompanied with two butter rotis.

As I hungrily wait for the meal, it starts to drizzle (not the season, so some errant weather pattern), and I’m ushered into the indoor restaurant. I’ve been to The Metropole scores of times, but never ventured into the indoors. I just prefer outdoors.

So the gaps between the tables outside gave way to seating at closer quarters.

As I went through emails, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Hangouts (all work), and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (all personal), I glanced around to size up the rest of the dinner crew. A most uninteresting bunch, and so I went back to doing what I was doing. Part work, part passing of time, and then came the soup. Delicious, no regrets at this forced change from Chinese.

Halfway through the soup or thereabouts, I hear this voice, Indian, deep and distinct accent from one of the southern states, and I think, Mallu (referring to people from the state of Kekarala). I still haven’t glanced up, as my face is in the soup, and then I hear (a much softer), foreign accent (male). Ah! So I am thinking’ Mallu eats dinner with foreigner, and cannot but help marking the stark difference in the decibel levels, between said Mallu, and said foreigner.

Mysore, just like the rest of India, is no stranger to foreigners, but the foreigners who come to Mysore or pass through Mysore, are either into Yoga, or then are here to study or learn the beautiful culture. Mysore, after all is the home of art and culture in the state of Karnataka and indeed of The South.

With all the international exposure I’ve had, unlike a lot of us Indians, I don’t flinch, nor do I stare at foreigners. Well, sometimes I’m compelled to stare.

This time, no staring, but just a glance to my right to get first glimpses, of Mallu and foreigner. Foreigner, dignified. Mallu, nerdy and completely awestruck in the presence of foreigner (yes I’m judgemental). For those who know my five second rule, they won’t be in the least bit surprised.

As I said at the outset, I don’t usually eavesdrop, except sometimes I do. Its kinda fun!

So not merely snatches of the conversation, but due to the rather high decibel levels, I’m able to hear it all. I could probably write pages on the conversation, but I will give you a gist.

At a high level, it goes something like this, Indians are like…..(negatively depicted), a complete generalization, and made to sound by Mallu like….this is not about me, I’m not Indian, it’s just that my skin is a rather deep shade of brown. That’s like me at Daytona Beach, post tan, speaking in an American accent, passing myself off, or at least trying to, as an American.

Indians don’t know anything about Yoga he goes, we need foreigners to show us how its done, because they are so much better. Yeah, right. Isn’t that exactly why scores of foreigners come to India and in particular Mysore to learn Yoga?

Now Yoga is another thing that sets me off these days. Why? Because, everybody and then everybody else seems to be into Yoga. And the kind of Yoga they do, is something that will probably make a dead Yogi turn in his or her grave! It seems to have become all about exercise, a weight loss fad, and has mostly lost its philosophical and deeply spiritual roots. You don’t really know much if all you are taught are one mantra, or do you? And then just last night, I see a video on Facebook, posted by a friend, which shows a Yoga class or studio (as its called these days), where the students are sipping beer whilst doing the Yoga postures! Incredulous. The video says it helps people relax. What next, designer drugs and Yoga as a logical progression?

Leaving Yoga on the back-burner, for a more detailed dissection of the modern-day Yoga social scene (some call it Yoga class), lets move on to other negatives as explained by my Mallu friend.

Indians don’t like to spend money. Indians are miserly, not generous and so on….. Right again! I was about to jump into the conversation and comment, but did manage to hold myself in check.

I wanted to move to another table to save myself from getting upset and reacting, or maybe I was just saving said Mallu….the outdoors had been moved into the indoors, there were no free tables. And thus I had to suffer this kind of depiction of India for another half hour as I went through the soup and main course. Good meal, stupid India, didn’t gratify.

And so I ask. Why aren’t Indians proud of who they are? Why are Indians so completely in awe of the West? Why can’t Indians just be Indians and not try so hard to conform? Finally why can’t Indians realize that kissing ass, or running down “Indians”, is not a way to suck up to a foreigner. Are we so damn stupid that we think that by sucking up, by degrading anything and everything Indian, we will earn the respect of foreigners?

Said foreigner, did try of a few occasions to put some of the utterances from Mallu into perspective and even did try to refute some of them, but since the man was in full flow, he simply said, that the poor foreigner didn’t really know, and stuck to his guns.

That’s all well and good….this Why business. I decided that this buster needed to be set right, so I waited for him to leave the restaurant, and met him in the parking lot, just to tell him that he’s a low life, ass licking individual, not fit to be called an Indian. You should have seen the look on his face. I loved it!

I guess I should balance that out, by saying that there are some things we Indians do not handle well, generally speaking, that is. We don’t take criticism well. We take it way to personal. We don’t like to follow rules and processes, but we are good at a time of crisis. We don’t know how to say no, we would rather say yes, then fail, and then make excuses. We are excellent in saying that it’s “almost” done. We wait for a deadline, and don’t provide a heads-up that the deadline will be missed, until the penultimate moment. Yes, that’s us, generally speaking.

But, cut me I bleed Indian and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

 

 

 

Mi Padre, Mi Papa – Part 1.

“In Memory of Papa. 1929 – 2018”.

That’s what my Facebook update said a few months ago. That and a few pictures of papa is all I could conjure up at that time. This post has been in the making since then, and whereas I’m super quick at starting and completing my blogs, this one has just been so hard to write.

I really don’t know who I’m writing this for, or why, but I am. Perhaps I’m talking to Papa, perhaps I want my kids to know what he meant to me, perhaps I’m just dealing with my sorrow in this way. Whatever be the reason/s, I think it’s a good thing, to talk about an extraordinary human being.

As on the date of publishing this post, it has now been a few months since I got that ill fated call at around 11 am on January 1, 2018.

Post that day, through the few days off from work with family around in Bombay, there was sadness, but the magnitude of my loss, our loss, has begun to sink in with each passing day.

New Year Day commenced with a reeling mind, mixed feelings, a ton of sadness, and in general feelings and emotions that really can’t be described in words. On the one hand I was happy for Papa that he left, since he had really suffered these last six months or so, and on the other hand, I was steeped in grief.

I rationalized that for a man who was so active at a ripe old age, making that trek from our home in Bandra to our office downtown (most Saturdays included), not being able to move around was pure torture.

For years now, he had heart issues, coupled with a rare neurological condition, Myasthenia Gravis, and the only way to manage that was certain prescription steroids. These steroids were so strong that they caused acute discomfort, and an inability to swallow, accompanied with all its related complications. In the final stages the disease had spread affecting movement of other muscle groups, and caused severe restriction of movement. Despite the discomfort, despite the acute frustration, all he wanted to do is get back to his routine. Morning cuppa, papers, bathe, deep reflection through prayer, get ready (in no real hurry), go to work, back in the evening, bathe, prayer, dinner, TV with The Mother, sleep. Right until a few days before he passed.

Only those who have been through similar experiences personally or have observed loved ones go through such torture, can come close to fathoming what its like.

As far as I am concerned, his passing was no longer a matter of sympathizing or for that matter empathizing with someone else who has lost a dear one. This is as close to home as it can get. This is Papa. Papa was special. He wasn’t just papa, he was my friend. My friend is gone, and he’s not coming back, ever….

This seems to be the hardest part….it still feels, after all these months that he’s gone away for a bit, and he will be back. His photographs, all over the house now, are just so lifelike.

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Apparently I’m not the only one who feels like this. Mama, Bhavna, Krishanu, Shruti, Keertana, Kartikeya, no exceptions.

Now I’m not one to dream a lot while sleeping, or rather I seldom do. But he’s been visiting me in my dreams fairly regularly, but then he would, he’s my friend.

Despite the fact that in my heart of hearts I had always known that this would come to pass, despite the fact that I was in constant wait for that call, saying that papa is no more, I wasn’t really ready to accept the inevitable. Papa and I have spent so much quality time together, as co-workers, as father and son, as friends, that this was difficult to deal with.

When I was in college, I would drive him to his office, then attend college, and in the afternoons would go and work at his office, learning the ropes of his business of metal fabrication, exports, imports and trading. Whatever, I learned at an early age, is experience and knowledge I have acquired by being around Papa, his business associates, his staff, his Chartered Accountant and a family friend and well-wisher Dushyant, his lawyer Mr. Purohit, who was not just a lawyer, but also an old time stock broker, a philosopher and a lawyer par excellence. I learned documentation pertaining to exports, imports, book keeping and the like, under the watchful tutelage of these associates and friends. That was but natural, I was supposed to inherit his business at some point. Some of his associates called me Prince. But for various reasons, beyond a point, I exited the family business and ventured out on my own.

But the lessons I learned working for Papa, all stood me in good stead throughout my career.

Nothing, believe me, nothing can prepare you for a loss of this magnitude. no amount of preparation, no amount of knowing….. nothing prepares you for this. The words, which I have said to so many others, “I’m so sorry for your loss”, mean nothing, as well intended and comforting as they are intended to sound.

You now begin to really understand things like, “from ashes to ashes, from dust to dust”. A living and breathing human being and at the end, we end up like this! This is stark. This is harsh. And then once you’ve immersed the ashes in water, even the ashes and bones are no more.

I am no stranger to death. I have seen a few, have even had a couple of close calls myself, have lit a few funereal pyres. My Nana, Naani, an ex-bosses wife, Bhavna’s mother…. Especially Bhavna’s mother, who literally passed in my arms.

There was emotion then, but this is a whole different level. This is when you realize that life is but temporary. Now you see him, now he’s gone. This is when you realize that this is going to be you, sooner, later, who knows?

I have read in scripture, the moment a person is born, he or she begins to die. This is when that naked truth hit home, no mincing of words there.

The sadness and pain just don’t go away. People say time heals everything, everything will be fine, but this one seems to buck the popular belief. As one of Shruti’s friends, Anvesha said to me a few weeks ago, “Bhai, people say the pain will ebb, but they say that just to console and comfort you”. She lost her dad several years ago, and says that it still feels the same. She’s so right. It’s been a few months, but this feels like its a permanent state on sadness, of emptiness, of helplessness. He’s gone.

As a person I don’t rattle easy, but when things were spiraling beyond a reasonable ability to deal with stuff, the only person who could give me respite or comfort me, during those weak seconds, was Papa. All I needed to hear was his saying, “Bete sab theek ho jayega, tu Bhagavan pe bharosa karta his na? Voh tereko sambhalenge”. Son, all will be well, don’t worry. You have such firm faith in God right? He will take care of you.

Of course, he would be deeply concerned, and I have caused him the deepest of concern through some of my decisions, my actions, my circumstances. I would see him sit in his armchair late into the night, not say a word, just reflect and chant on his chanting beads.

I’ve always believed and continue to believe that we learn something new each and every day. However, this is learning that causes permanent sorrow, permanent loss, and creates a chasm that cannot be filled. These are scars that don’t heal.

One morning several months ago, The Mother came to my room…maybe it was about 8.30 or 9 am. Shes worried, her face says it. Papa is unwell and asking to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Papa asking for an ambulance!!! Incredulous! Unheard of! For those who knew my dad, he was a tough old man, with rare strength, with rare….. well, everything. This sent shivers down my spine!

Waiting for an ambulance was just a pain, and so I took him by the hand, down to the car and we were in Asian Heart at BKC shortly thereafter. They had been prepped, and alerted to his impending arrival, and as per their exemplary service standards (and the fact that his old time friend and well-wisher Dushyant was associated with the hospital), he was rushed to Emergency. As The Mother and I waited outside, we feared the worst.

Then the test results start coming in, his heart function is less than 50%, down to 30 odd %. We are informed that he needs immediate surgery.

I wasn’t exactly pleased with this, simply because my gut told me that he was far too weak, far too old and as such I feared that he would not survive a surgery. Therefore, we didn’t rush into taking that decision, and it was the right thing to do, as validated by several well wishers including my Mami, who is as astute a Doctor as are around. Then there was Dr. Pandit, my friend Neha’s father, who by listening on the phone, to my descriptions of Papa’s condition, and the report results, was spot on in his diagnosis and his advice as well. Don’t operate.

En route to the hospital, my infallible (almost) gut, told me that he would not last too long, and despite my wanting to be the eternal optimist (like Papa), in the deepest recesses of my heart, I knew that it was merely a matter of time. I guess we all knew. Shruti Mama and me. Whereas my sister and I, we spoke about this quite openly on our video calls, its not something you can really discuss with you mother.

How can you tell your Mother, a woman who has had only one man throughout her life, sailed the most turbulent oceans with him, overcome every hurdle together, that it is merely a matter of time, that her one and only man, is soon to depart? A formidable couple. Not seen these days.

Still, I am the son, and it falls on me, and as things are, I’m pretty much the only person who can have these difficult conversations with The Mother. She loves me to bits, and therefore I usually get elected to break unpleasant news, or then, to calm her fiery temper, or smooth over some hurt that may have been caused to her. Even Papa would come to me from time to time, when he has tried his luck reasoning with her, and got his rear chewed out.

In jest and out of affection as well Bhavna calls her “The Higher Authority”. When we were younger Shruti and I called her “GOC Commanding”, or “General Officer in Chief – Commanding”. The Mother is not to be messed with, though I mess and get away with minor skirmish evidence.

And so, given that I have this special bond with Mama, I did broach this rather delicate subject …. indirectly, and from her reaction, I knew that she knew as well.

From that point on, he was in and out of hospital quite a few times, the last stint being the week of Dec 25, 2017, when he was adamant to be treated for his neurological condition at the hands of a Doctor who had advised him a course of injections through the week. You will run once you undergo the treatment, he said, and papa being Papa, was adamant and go himself admitted. He called me on Sunday, and we spoke about this. I’m going in my head, Papa don’t do it, but he had made up his mind, and there was no further debate.

He was discharged on Saturday, Dec 31, 2017 and chose to leave his body on New Year’s Day 2018.

Shruti, my baby (mother of two) sister is in the US. She cannot reach until 36-48 hours later, and so we agreed with her not to wait for the last rites, and chose instead to do this as soon as my eldest son Krishanu and I landed in Bombay later that night.

During the last couple of years, Papa who normally would never ask me, when I would be back, when leaving for a business trip, always would ask. It hurt like hell, because I knew that he wanted a son around since he was growing old.

I’d been trying to go home each weekend but new job, new challenges, new responsibilities, startup environment, I postponed. He actually asked me a couple of weeks before he passed, “tu kab aa raha hai”, when are you coming? I said, Papa, next week. That next week never came, and he was gone. He left waiting to see his son, his friend. This is the single biggest regret of my life, and I have a few! This one…..well…..

I reach home to a packed house, with several familiar and often seen faces, but some familiar faces, but seen seldom and usually on such occasions. If I didn’t really acknowledge those seldom seen faces, it was not out of disrespect, but due to my mind having switched on auto-pilot, just capable with dealing with the fact and nothing else.

I didn’t shed a single tear, I didn’t emote, and I’m pretty sure several thought that odd, or even drummed up some silly stories of Papa and me not being too close, and quite honestly, I don’t give a flying f@#k! Mi Padre and I were OK, and I really don’t need anybody’s opinion on that.

After sending off so many on their final journey, I am now doing the same for my own dad. I can’t quite describe what I felt, how I felt, or even the thoughts that ran through my mind.

We followed all reasonable tradition and rituals in sending him off, and I hope we did it right.

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If it wasn’t textbook, it was heartfelt, especially considering that many had many opinions on the exact nature of rituals and ceremonies. I finally laid down the law, and followed the way he would have followed, leaving people to their own opinions when in disagreement.

Through all this, I was particularly reassured to have my kids around me, and I think this is the first time I have ever felt the need for that kind of moral support. Perhaps its what Papa had been feeling, and that is why he kept asking me how long I would be away for?

Papa has touched so many people, helped so many people, earned the trust and respect of so many people. Even people like Divya my friend, a sports therapist, who came home to attend to his movement disabilities, who knew him for the shortest possible time, even Jitu his day nurse, who knew him only through his illness….they all commented on just how much he touched them.

That was Papa’s nature, his persona. He exuded joy and happiness and love. Our smallest successes pleased him no end, and he was always in the mood to celebrate. Sweets, flowers, cake, dinner at the club. Govind!!! Would go The Mother, expressing her displeasure at splurging a tad too much. Keertana describes and imitates this best.

It is no wonder then, that when we had a prayer meeting in his honor, and in memory of Papa, so many old friends and business associates showed up.

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I can’t help reflecting, introspecting, have I been a good son? Good perhaps not, but being there when he needed me most, a debatable yes. It is an equation that won’t balance, the LHS > RHS. Period.

In ending, all of you out there, who have old parents, treat each day as if it may be their last, and make the most of whatever time you are able to spend with them. If there is history, bad blood, let it go. its not worth it. Don’t end up like me, living in regret that however justifiable the reasons, I didn’t realize that Papa was saying, come see me, I’m not going to be here much longer.

I miss you Papa, I wish I was able to say all this to you, but you and I know that this is what it would take for me to say what I needed to say. There is much to talk about, there is much to reminisce. I hope that this reaches you, I just need you to know….

 

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