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Monday, October 8, 2018

To be truly a Movement #Metoo has to become more Inclusive

#MeToo is hiding more than it is Revealing

This story goes many moons back. It was winter break at Delhi University and I was at home getting the TLC which is a hosteller’s right when the phone rang. My very good friend was on the other side. The only words she spoke on the phone were,’ I am coming to stay at your place’. Her narrative left me shaken and stirred. Her mother’s brother, at whose house she was spending the holidays, had on the pretext of sharing her shawl while watching a movie, touched her at all the places he shouldn’t have. She answered my unspoken question with a shake of her head and I nodded in agreement. It was understood that some things were best brushed under the carpet. Family was sacrosanct and it was the duty of each member to guard its sanctity and shroud the acts.

For my friend, just as for most Indian women, these ‘encounters’ have been scurrilous episodes of life, to be brushed under the carpet and forgotten. Well brought up girls don’t speak out and silence is golden. That silence was yesterday. Or is it really so?  Yes, today many voices are speaking out against male predators: Alpha men with narcissism and egotism so deeply etched in their flawed psyche that for them it is perfectly par for the course to try and stake claim to women who are not their wedded halves. Yes, these men have met their waterloo in #Metoo with skeletons tumbling out of cupboards at a deliciously dizzying rate. But the women taking the lead, so far, are either famous or working, or both. These are definitely empowered voices and the voices are not shying away from telling their stories on social media.

Men in media, films, corporate houses, politics are being called out and so are authors, writers et el. It is with pride that one follows the girls and women who are standing up to be counted. However, while this piece is not about belittling the brave vanguard voices, it is important to acknowledge that out of all the voices that have spoken out, there is no voice of a niece or a sister, or a sister-in-law, a daughter. The women of the family are still quiet. If men, all men, are really to be shamed into understanding that women cannot be sexually harassed then #Metoo   will have to be the confluence of many movements—involving the workplace, colleagues, friends, seniors and, most importantly, Family. As of now #Me Too seems to be shining light on the easy targets only.
The postulates or principles of a successful movement are so basic that we cannot hope to achieve anything unless the basics are in place. A dynamic, successful social movement really needs to be like the Ganga with its many tributaries. It needs to open outwards to people and be powered by a groundswell of voices. The #MeToo movement has to go deeper and scrutinize familial silence on sexually predatory behavior. It is an open secret that most families have their Monsoon Wedding moments. If women don’t do a Mira Nair then the movement will be hiding more than it’s revealing. By its silence on the aspect of sexual assault from uncles, brothers, relationships girls trust and don't have their guard up against, is #MeToo forgiving more than its holding accountable?

Movements such as #Metoo, with the wherewithal to transform mindsets, lives and society, need to emerge from a multitude of struggles. Their roots need to go deeper, searching for the origin of the rot. The origin of the rot is not the boss in the office or the office colleague. The rot starts at the hearth. In this search, the base of the movement will broaden to encompass those who are yet on the sidelines. The stories that have been heard so far are about men who were not related to the women they stalked. The women who have come out and spoken have not upset the house (family) of cards  
It is true that for a truly powerful defining movement, the answer for success is that the marginalised, the sidelined, those forming the bottom need to come to the forefront. It is this bottom layer that needs to become propellers for the movement and for the issues that the movement is trying to address. The untold stories have to be told: by the women of the family.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

When Music Taught me what Preaching failed to:To Live in the Present

Yes, I always knew that one should not dwell in the past, that it is the present that is the most important. My BFF even gave me one of those mementos, the ones which have life’s many lessons embossed on them. This one, brought all the way from America, says:  “Yesterday's the past, tomorrow's the future, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present”.

Messages on Whatsapp groups by prolific and incorrigible Thought for the Day messengers include:”Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present”; “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness”. And many more, culled I am sure from the same source, viz Brainy Quotes. How much did all this help? Almost Zilch. The memento did perk me up for some time but then it got hidden behind a bank of books and would only show up in the frenzy of spring and Diwali cleaning. Whatsapp messages are so well meaning, but let’s face it when did well meaning ever have any real meaning?

    I have always prided myself on being a positive person and lived life more or less to Tennyson’s Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why…Until recently that is. With no catalyst to pin the blame on, I did start wallowing in the past with many why’s cropping up, much like the Devil’s horns. The past, we all know, is a long winding, tortuous tunnel with no end in sight.  There would be times I would surface from long walks down forked roads and tell myself: ‘Never again’. But much like the proverbial druggie my wayward mind would at any time and almost too many times plunge into the past again.

    A week back I stumbled upon a playlist lying forgotten in a folder on my desktop inexplicably titled Home. I hit the play button and the most magical words started filling the living room. I listened to the songs, almost spell bound in nostalgia, till the husband entered and enquired if there was lunch for the proletariat or not. Lying in bed that night I realized I had not met the past that day. The next day I was better organized. I transferred the music to my phone, connected it to Bluetooth and switched on the Bose speakers. The very first song that played was:
                                   Aanewala Pal Jaanewala Hai
                                 Ho Sake toh Iss Mein Zindagi Bitaado
                                          Pal Jo Yeh Jaanewala hai….

           Then came
                   Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu, Pichhe Bhi Jaane Na Tu
                            Jo Bhi Hai, Bas Yahi Ek Pal Hai….
                        Ye Pal Ujaalaa Hai Baaqi Andheraa Hai
                         Ye Pal Ganvaanaa Na, Ye Pal Hi Teraa Hai
                    Jinevaale Soch Le Yahi Vaqt Hai Kar Le Puri Aarazu

And then

            …… Kal ke andheron se nikal ke/Dekha hai aankhein malte malte
                Ho phool hi phool zindagi bahaar hai/Tay kar liya aa..
              Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai/Aaj phir marne ka irada hai

…..Aise Jeevan Bhi Hain Jo Jiye Hi Nahin /Jinko Jeene Se Pehle Hi Maut Aa Gayi
Phool Aise Bhi Hain Jo Khile Hi Nahin / Jinko Khilne Se Pehle Fiza Kha Gai

                     zindagi ke safar mein guzar jate hain jo makam,
                        woh phir nahin aate,/ woh phir nahin aate!

                          Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahi milta
                           Kahin zameen to kahin aasman nahin milta

                            Chhodo kal ki baate/ Kal ki baat puraani….
                             Aaj puraani zanjiro/ Ko tod chuke hai
                            Kyaa dekhe us mazil ko/ Jo chhod chuke hai

The magic of the ageless classics enveloped me giving me warmth and immense viribus. But more than this I got answers to issues that had been haunting me. You want me to share the answer? Simple. Carpe diem. Seize the day. It is only today that is mine.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Zen and the Art of Powering a Start Up

Hello, all you raring to join the start-up brigade. Read in for some valuable insights from Rahul Bhalla, core member of the team that powered Zenatix.
(I wrote this  piece for the business academy of VISA. It is on the business academy website)

When Rahul Bhalla, Vishal Bansal and Amarjeet Singh of the batch of 2002 graduated from IIT Delhi it was to walk career paths as varied as legal outsourcing, financial services and technology. But the commonality of their engineering background, of having lived in the same hostel and of wanting to do something together at some point ensured that they not only kept in touch but also kept bouncing ideas for a start up. In 2013 when they quit their comfortable jobs the only certainty was that their future lay in the application of data analytics. 

Reminiscing about the ‘ what to do, when to do’ days Rahul says, ‘we felt quitting our jobs as the first step was necessary in order to come out of our  individual cushioned cocoons and look for opportunities. We were passionate about data analytics and as a natural corollary started researching on application of data analytics for verticals such as retail, health care, e-commerce, financial services, energy etc. before zeroing in on energy efficiency’. 

The clinching factor was that Amarjeet had already done a lot of research in energy sustainability.  
Zenatix was formally launched in the November of 2013. Quiz him about how the trio sustained themselves financially in the gap period between leaving their jobs and starting Zenatix, and Rahul Bhalla laughs. Calling it a slow growth period he says that even after the launch the three kept pumping in savings and putting back whatever money they were making into the business. It took 15-18 months for things to start looking up. By this time they had some good customers and had raised some money.
In this period of slow growth it was trust and faith coupled with belief in his co-workers that kept Bhalla going.

Building the Product
This energy data analytics firm helps large commercial customers of energy reduce their energy consumption using intelligence from their energy data. The basic premise of the company is operational behaviour – simply put it is what time certain equipment is switched on or off.
Rahul Bhalla, CEO and Head of Sales, gives an example he has found most people are able to relate to: that of a telephone bill. In a telephone bill one is able to see how much one has spent on SMS’s, local calls, STD charges, and international calls and so on. If the mobile bill is higher than normal in a particular month one can check and see that the roaming charges make sense because one was traveling. Compare this to an electricity bill which gives no insight beyond the total number of units consumed. This lack of insight hits the commercial sector spending lakhs, or even crores, every month the hardest.

Zenatix helps disaggregate energy consumption into major electrical loadsand does so in real time. It uses physical sensors to acquire data on usage and sets up cloud based software for real time monitoring of the client’s energy consumption. It runs advanced analytics on the collected data and the softwaretriggers controls or prompts for controls, which drive energy savings.

Ask him about their journey in developing the product and he feels identifying a problem and its solution is important but even more than that is the ability to evolve because the customers and the market are never static. When one takes a product to the market the market reacts in a certain fashion and the customers react in another and one has to learn very quickly.  He says,’ when we started we were throwing data at people but soon realised that this data was not helping them. If we had not evolved and narrowed down our focus to commercial buildings and air conditioners our product would not have had any compelling raison d 'être.

Building the Team
Zenatix is divided into three verticals. Sales and Business Development headed by Rahul Bhalla,Operations  headed by VishalBansal and Technology headed by Amarjeet Singh. Presently the firm has about fifteen employees but plans to scale up the number by ten in the coming months. Ask Rahul Bhalla what he looks for in a prospective employee and his answer is a succinct ‘passion and mind set’. He feels that in the start up world the mind set a person needs to have is very different from the cushy and predictable environment of established firms where one comes in and leaves office at a certain time. In a start up the employee needs to be able to contribute to self-growth and the growth of the company. And of course get rewarded in return.

This is what worked for him personally and what keeps him going. He always worked for companies which were start ups at the time he joined: Evalueserve ,CPA Global, and UnitedLex  Corporation. He was the first employee at the latter. The company grew to about 100 million dollars in top line in about 6-7 years and concomitantly he went on to become the Vice President of Intellectual Property.

Staying Motivated
Passion is a lietmotif of Bhalla’s talk. ‘The scale of electricity consumption of corporates, hotels hospitals is huge. If I can reduce a large building’s energy consumption by 10% that can possibly power four villages in India. The realisation that if we are able to scale up our business and impact how people live in this world keeps me motivated’. Freshness and newness of challenges also keep him motivated.

There is a smile in his voice as he repeats, ‘my eureka moments’? A pause and then he continues,’the eureka moments come firstly when you see that your product has made a difference in someone’s life. The second is when your start-up raises money.’

Zenatix raised around Rs 1.27 crore ($200k) in seed funding from a number of high profile investors. ‘When you see a good set of individuals helping you in your endeavour to have your product have a wider outreach it is a validation of your work and yes, it becomes a special moment.’
For him the favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is seeing a new challenge daily. ‘When you get up in the morning you have one thing in your mind but that goes up to ten when you reach office. Every day is a new day and this is what keeps me going. The focus is on how to deliver more and more value to the customer’.

Executing and Staying Ahead
Bhalla feels that innovation and execution are the key to staying ahead in today’s competitive market. An idea is nothing on its own – it requires execution. This means installation of hardware and software, engaging with customers, delivering on promises.

He firmly believes that building a business is not so much about an idea but more about execution. So before one starts looking out for ideas, look for co-founder(s) so that there is a solid team that can execute well. That's what they (co-founders of Zenatix) did. When they quit their jobs, they had no clue what they were we going to do but had faith in each other's capabilities. Their goal was simple - solve a real problem that has a big scale.  Energy efficiency is a real problem and one never has to worry about scale - everybody on this planet is a consumer of electricity!

Ethical concerns are what most entrepreneurs setting up base in India have to face including he and his co-founders. ’We were clear in our minds that we would never engage in any unethical practice. If our business succeeded well and good, otherwise we would figure out something else. Once we had taken a stand we stuck to it and that worked for us. So far we have been able to demonstrate significant growth based on value for our product.’

The ready laugh is there again when he is asked about the trio being labelled “The powerpuff boys” by a national weekly. ‘Yes, that was a smart line and one felt good’.
And that’s how one leaves him- feeling good about his work, motivated by the feedback, in love with the space he is in at the present.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lodhi, The Garden Restaurant: Review

Lodi-The Garden Restaurant
Lodhi Road, Opp. Mausam Bhavan,
 New Delhi, 110003
Price: dinner for two approx 2500 Indian rupees

 Any google search for the best restaurants of Delhi will invariably throw up Lodi-The Garden Restaurant( henceforth L-TGR) somewhere in the top ten. Which sort of  takes one to those blogs which entice with 'How to rank higher on Google in five minutes using....'  Don't get me wrong- L-TGR is nice, it's sweet, it tries hard, it scores on two important parameters but....

The hostess standing at the start of the cobbled pathway trills an eager  'good  evening' even as  we are helping the octogenarian in our party down the steps leading to the pathway with the result that most of us don't hear it and the lone person , me, who does can't look up and respond since the  octogenarian and I are in the process of  synchronized navigation of said steps. 

We go down a short winding path to the right of which is the garden area for outdoor dining. The lush green garden is very prettily done up  with hanging lamps, twinkling lights, water cans serving as fountains mounted on one side. It scores high on ambience but can really be used only for winter lunches and October- March evenings and so, since we in Delhi are in the middle of a muggy August, we toodle off  indoors.

We step inside to dimly lit interiors and a smiling maitre d'. Thankfully two steps take us to our table and so no one falls. The real test comes when the menus are placed before us. The aunt manfully  bells the cat and asks for some light. The waiter pauses in the act of pouring water and switches on his phone's torch light. The water jug stays poised mid air for a good ten minutes or so as the aunt goes through the entire menu  and then comes back to the first page to start the confabulations. We are almost decided when the uncle declares that no, paella is a must. Paella means dropping a dish and so hectic parleys resume.... All this while no one comes to rescue either the water jug or  the waiter. Could be two reasons for the same: given the dim interiors they couldn't see what was happening or the menu  reading by torch light was an all too familiar occurring.

  After the outdoor seating the second parameter on which L-TGR scores is food. The espresso martinis , for the octogenarian and the aunt, were pronounced absolutely delicious, as were the mojitos we opted for. The entree of  vegetarian mezze  ( falafel, cheese fatayer, hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, tabouleh, pita and home made pickle) was easy on the eye and tasted good. The paella  was cooked just so, the grilled vegetables platter was amazing as was the quinoa. However, what stole the show was the dessert- almond  bread pudding on a bed of  warm toffee sauce with a topping of fig ice cream. Sinful!! Just what a good dessert is meant to be.

The cheque is called for. It comes after a while. In the meantime one is distracted by certain, ahem, loud noises come from  the next table. The guest is unhappy about an error in the billing-  In the meantime our cheque arrives. Aunt looks at it earnestly but it is clear that she needs some help.The mobile ,err torch, arrives. The plastic card is fished out but in the meantime the waiter has vanished. We make idle conversation for five minutes but no Johnny turns up. The octogenarian looks ready to blow a fuse and finally does. An apologetic face turns up finally.

You know what L-TGR reminds one of? The morning after. Everything is still, almost,  the same: the people, the setting.......but something is missing. Perhaps, the zing?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Twelve Angry Jurors: Play Review

We saw the evening show of Twelve Angry Jurors, a RAGE production, at the Kamani Auditorium, Delhi. It was truly a wonderful experience from the time one entered the gates. We had been dreading the thought of standing in long queues to get the hard copy of our tickets. However,  there were no queues- instead there were  young, smiling faces guiding one through a razzmatazz of offers and giddy fun- spinning wheel,  a mounted fine dining menu , your very own clapboard photograph- all this set to some lovely piano music by  Kaizad Gherda . The well lit Kamani foyer had never looked more inviting and well appointed as it did that evening- with boarded posters of Aadyam’s Season II plays landscaping the walls.  Nice!! Aditya Birla group cultural foray with Aadyam is poised to be a winner.

Some years back I had sat spellbound through the Hollywood movie of the same name - and truth to tell went for the play all ready for a comme ci comme ça version. So here goes: the performances were scintillating, the dialogues thought provoking and fitting very well in the Indian context, the editing -tight, the props masterpieces each, Nadir Khan’s direction- smart, the actors- seasoned and composed, the pièce de résistance-Rajit Kapur’s oft shown backside.

The fact that decades back the jury system, in India, was buried does nothing to take away from the relevance of the play. Human emotions and reactions are woven deftly to create a tapestry of aggression, misconception, boredom, dissent, vindictiveness and escapism. One doesn’t know about the others in the audience but I could see a little of myself in all the 12 jurors.

 Special mention must be made of the clever use of the montage of three screens which alternatively showed the roofs of buildings (Mumbai courts?) scorching on a hot summer day and the interface between jurors in the overworked toilet of the jury room.

Any irritant in Eden’s Garden? A teeny weeny watery one: the three dozen trips to the water cooler by the dozen jurors. Please Nadir- do you remember the time in kindergarten when you got scolded on your second ‘water’ trip for distracting the class? Well, that is what we felt like doing- scolding you for distracting us in an otherwise perfectly riveting play.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

FAAAI to invite WPI tracking body to its next meeting

The first FAAAI (Fat and Ageing Auntys’ Association of India) meeting ended yesterday on a very positive note. The members of the association were seen leaving the venue in upmarket South Delhi in a very happy and notably cheerful mood.

The reason for the positivity is that the two day conclave ended with the passing of the resolution that FAAAI would invite the same body to check its members weight and record their age as the one that keeps track of the WPI ( Wholesale Price Index).

The president of FAAAI told this reporter that the association was formed with the primary purpose of making middle aged women feel happy about themselves. It is par for  the course that what will keep the members really thrilled is an index that shows their weight and age going in the negative rather than inching north.

“I read in the newspapers that deflationary trends continued for the ninth month in a row in July 2015 with wholesale inflation plunging to a historic low, in fact plunging into (-) and that this may prompt RBI to cut interest rate ahead of the September 29 policy meet”, a beaming president stated. “That was my Eureka moment. I realized that if someone out there was still able to show a whole country that the WPI is going into negative then he/she would certainly be able to convince the ladies at FAAAI that their weight is going down and that they have slipped into reverse ageing”, added the president.

One of the founder members, who was lurking on the sidelines, twittered that the WPI measuring body had proved its mettle by releasing mind fuddling stats and data to fox the poor Indian consumer. The gullible and eager to be convinced ladies at FAAAI would be really easy work – almost a cake walk.

As one  prepared to leave calls were being made to all corners of the country to locate the genius who had  fudged the figures and could do so in future too.

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Support of the Death Penalty

Almost three decades to this day sixteen year old Geeta Chopra , a 2nd year student of Jesus and Mary College, and her  fourteen year old brother, Sanjay, a 10th standard student  of  Modern School,  left home to participate in a radio programme called the Yuva Vani on the All India Radio. Two bright young  peppy cheerful loved happy youngsters with nary a care in the world. Two days later their parents were called to identify their  mutilated, bruised, vandalised, tortured , bodies.

I ask you to close your eyes and bring that moment in front of your eyes. That moment – the moment when the sheets were lifted from the bodies and the parents saw their children. The moment which witnessed the death of a family unit, the death of a mother’s joy, of a father’s pride, the death of hopes, ambitions, laughter, of life as it was that the family had shared.

In that sepia tinted frame of two murdered dead and two living dead, you now see the two  killers - the rapists, the vandalisers, the plunderers . The men who murdered not just two innocent teenagers but a whole family. And then, after having seen all this , you are asked to pronounce a judgement. For this rarest of rare case will you not say what  the hon’ble court read out on a blistery cold January day in 1981…to be hanged until dead?

The decision to include capital punishment was taken unanimously by the framers of our constitution – the same people who gave us our Preamble, the group which included legal luminaries, freedom fighters, the privileged and the scheduled caste.  When the Law Commission submits its report, which by all accounts will recommend abolition of death penalty, it will be going against the considered opinion of those who gave us our constitution.

It is important to remember that the penalty is read out in only the rarest of rare cases. It is because of this rarest of rare clause that a research done by National Law University, Delhi found that only 755 people have been executed since Independence. Wikipedia tells us that a total of 26 executions have taken place in India since 1991. Also important is that just 4 of  the 26 hanged since ’91 have been muslims.

Death penalty is not awarded arbitrarily and in a discriminatory manner. Fairness has always been an essential part of our system of justice. When the highest court of the land finally upholds the death penalty order the case has gone through many years of appeals , arguments, testimonies and travelled a complex legal maze. It is very rare, nee almost impossible, that an innocent is given the death penalty.

Amnesty International, which has been a leading advocate of abolishing the death penalty, maintains an official stance of “we  in no way seek to minimize or condone the crimes for which those sentenced to death were convicted. As an organization deeply concerned with the victims of human rights abuses, Amnesty International does not seek to belittle the suffering of the families of murder victims, for whom we have the greatest sympathy. However, the finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty render it incompatible with norms of modern-day civilized behaviour….” 

Look at the irony inherent in this statement. The finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty render it incompatible with norms of modern-day civilized behaviour… The irony lies in the talk of civilized behaviour towards those who have broken each and every mores of the civilized world- those men , and women, who never once paid heed to the finality and cruelty of their actions which resulted in death, who indulged in  behaviour which is incompatible with civilized societies. Hasn’t Amnesty itself given the reason why the ultimate penalty should be given to those who do not subscribe to societal norms?

Sitting in the comfort of our living rooms and weighing the pros and cons of capital punishment is akin to discussing whether anaesthesia should be administered to a patient going in for surgery or not.... Those not undergoing the surgery will never feel the pain. Besides the highest court of the land this should also   be decided by those who have gone through the trauma of losing a loved one to the act of gruesome murder, rape, mutilation . Remember, for capital punishment to be handed out the crime has to come under the category of rarest of rare.

We should ask the survivors of 26/11 if they are able to sleep at night without hearing the staccato of gunshots; we should ask the families who lost their loved ones to Ajmal Kasab’s madness, we should ask the mother of Nirbhaya if she will ever be able to forgive the ‘juvenile’ who rammed an iron rod inside her daughter.

And we should ask ourselves: how cruel is it of us to even think about the possibility of letting people like Billa Ranga, Ajmal Kasab and their ilk to live on? What if they repeat –in jail or outside- what they have shown they are capable of doing?