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Today is a very important day !!  The man who is paying for the services of consultants like me, is back from his vacation. Now, when I say he is paying for our services, what I really mean is he is the Global Director, Project Sponsor ….Executive Board et al. He is the client !!

The timing of his “time off” could not have been better. We were in a critical phase as far as the project deliverables and decisions were concerned. Sort of along the same lines of when Arjun and Krishna were tweeting on Koffee with Kauravas. Now imagine, just before Krishna begins, Arjun decides to take a month-long vacation. You know to explore the hills of Gangtok I am sure that would sit really well in the Pandava camp – “dude just go….. have fun !! ….and bring us back some yak milk cheese.”.

History repeats itself is proof, when our Local Arjun brought back some candies from Zurich. Based on inputs from my intra office contacts I have established, that these are the ones which are always on sale in the Duty Free stores. And I digress. At this point, it would be rather insignificant for the reader to note that our Local Arjun is of Bengali descent. It would also be negligent of me, if I forgot to mention that Local Arjun believes – being a fellow Bengali, it is my moral duty to kiss his Bengali paachha (buttocks)…. especially since it has client written all over it !!

Now that is where things get a little hairy. Let me explain briefly with an example!!

So, Local Arjun cruised in this morning, sporting his Sree Leathers shoes and wearing his cheap cologneof the 80’s man who badly needs a wardrobe makeover”. And then he embarked on his Vijay Yatra (raucous walk through the cubicles). As the decibel on the periodic  “haoo are yoooo”’ s amplified –  I knew it was just a matter of time, before I would have to strike a subordinated posture and enquire  – “Boss kemon ghurlen?” (how was your trip, Boss ?).  

I have to admit, this was not the best question !! Local Arjun took the cue and promptly filled up the air with details on how “vaery beeootifull Vaeneece (Venice) was !!  He slurped on the memories of a “deeleeshush” duck in Paris. And almost mourned the loss of his lugg – age (including his wife) at the Munich airport. Four weeks of relaxations has its effects, and at that point he just wanted to get back home to some dal bhaat (lentil and rice). The “vaery” vocal travelogue continued,without any consideration for those that were on conference calls or any other business related activities.

As everywhere, there were some dedicated schmoozers who posed some challenging questions – “ how were the hotels ? “. Local Arjun believes in – always explain briefly with examples. (now you know why I am how I am). He did not disappoint the listener. “ Oh they were so vaery costtlee”  he said and concluded the ten minute monologue with – “I had to spend $40,000 just on hotels itself !! It was horr-aybell, you know !!

Like so many others, this is another bone dry IT project. One which is supported by a group of under paid technocrats. Those who have had a really rough June. The client sliced and diced us with inane accusations and rolled off some key resources without any specific reason (read : because someone needed to be blamed). One of the guys lost his father before he could reach India. He was not allowed to leave sooner. And yet our Local Arjun finds in himself the “right” to flaunt bleat about his pleasures pains to those that held fort during his totally deserving holiday.    

It is likely that working “14 hour” days has pushed my head, so far up my behind, that my thinking has got all muddy. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the part where I question the Gurus of the Service Industry. When they say “the client is always right !!”  how “always” is that ? ?

While you reflect on that, I shall now get back to comforting him with my sincere concerns – “You look tired Boss. I think you should take it easy for a couple of days !”.

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Ricky Gervais’s .gif courtesy: google images

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Dear Birthday Boy

This is an email of apology. You should be able to recognize me. I am your co-worker, the one who scheduled the fake meeting this afternoon. I did it, because we  absolutely did not need to discuss the status of the development  for the bank interface. Why would we, especially since we have been working on that for a whole week now. But I had to do it. I had to send you the invite, and ensure that you and I walked to Conference Room A…. two – gether !!

If you recall …on Monday (this week),  you and I, and everyone else received an email, that we should  meet up in Conference Room A around 4 pm…. to surprise the portal guy. And then again on Tuesday (also this week)… there was another email …. this time it was Conference Room B and we had to surprise the data warehousing guy. Knowing you, (some one who solves intricate coding issues in minutes), and drawing from the history of surprises in the last year or so and especially from this week, I am positive that you could not have guessed that we would want to surprise you today. I am ashamed that I was part of this stupidity conspiracy theory !!

I am especially regretting, how I walked you to Conference Room A, pretending not to understand why everyone else followed us in the same direction. My understanding was …this was a surprise…just like the others.My sincere apologies about my poor acting skills which failed to display any true emotions of complete disbelief. I should have been inspired by aides (to previous surprise victims) and how they managed to perform with exceptional finesse !!

Please believe me, when I say that I had no clue (even though I had seen it for the last 25 surprises) that the surprise would be  the same cake….from the same store….that we all have been digging into …at these …(for lack of better definition) ….clandestine rendezvous. Unfortunately I was wrong !!

But most of all, my sincere apologies that I could not bring myself to sing along with the rest of the team when they did …. the  “Happy Birthday to You” . My lack of immaturity is deplorable. I cannot understand, what came over me that I did not  wipe the cake all over your face like so many others from the team did. How rude of me?  The fact that the cake is not even worth wasting had nothing to do with it. And I did not stop there. My diminishing team spirit was obvious, when I did not laugh when they called you Balakrishna  of coding !!

I hope that you can pardon my inefficiency and get back to work ……on the bank interface !!  ASAP !!

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4:20 am on a Monday morning – “Hello this is Checker Sedan, calling you to let you know that your your 4:45 pick up is on the way”. He pulls up, greets you with a smile as you get situated with the fresh coffee smell of the vehicle interiors and he carefully tucks away your luggage. The impression that ensues is one of comfort and promise. If you have been one of the regular travellers who knows about them – you know where to find them . If not you can follow the signs. But not for long. Come July 1st this fleet of luxury vehicles will no longer be seen in the McNamara or the North Terminal….

From the Crain’s Detroit Business …….

Checker Sedan to close Dearborn Heights-based high-end transportation service Checker Sedan will cease all operations on June 30, blaming the economy. The company is the luxury service division of Detroit-based Checker Cab and was established in March 2000. It has the $8.7 million, three-year contract for on-demand curbside luxury vehicle service at Detroit Metropolitan Airport that ends June 30. The company chose not to bid on the contract that will begin July 1. It is a subsidiary of Detroit-based Soave Enterprises Inc. — Bill Shea

How does this impact me personally other than the search for an alternative? It will be a drag, the drive.I will miss my early morning conversations which honored everyone and everything – from pastrami, chianti and egg plant parmesan to the music of ARR in SDM to family emergencies like a father’s broken collar bone or celebration of a daughter’s engagement to a Marine officer from the Carolinas !!. Over the years, I have looked forward to us sharing notes about life,two individuals who miss their homeland dearly and promise to take the next flight home if they hit the lotto. Funny how neither of us actually buy one !!

He is a father, a son and a husband !! But to me, he is my friend (one who I shall miss dearly) who happens to drive me to the airport every week.I am not sure how life will space out after they close shop. Is this another sign that Detroit is dying? The economists can do their pie charts. I know we have a few more rides. But then, when we would have been on the last one – I want to a hug him and say – “questo non è un addio” – this is not a goodbye. This is the beginning of the rest of your life. Roland Taga – I thank you !!

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Middle school physics is how we learn about the definition of power.I am sure most of us learn to accept that word and the “strength” it signifies, way before that point in our academic wisdom. The elders in the family talk about it in their conversations over Darjeeling tea and Marie biscuits on Sunday afternoon with the Wills Filter accompaniment, voicing their opinion on which political leader has been using, or should I say “mis-using” power.And then the cricket matches talk about the power in the drive of the batsman when the red globe goes whizzing between the static fielders, that is if you belong to a cricket following nation.And there is power play in hockey when the Red Wings decide to target the molars without remorse. Every where you look, there is power in some form which is trying to arrive at a conclusion, sometimes intentional and sometimes purely as a matter of coincidence.End of the day, in my opinion – power is a very powerful word, it feels and sounds good.Though probably my favorite definition is what Oskar Schindler tells Amon Goeth – “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t” !!

This post is about how power is abused. Not the story about the badminton matches which happen in streets of the metro cities on winter nights – courtesy the state electricity board and the tapped connection. I am pointing towards the power of being the “boss”. Power of being able to spit and decline without any rhyme or reason … like my friend says … “just because”. I am biased and I am not going to apologise about that.My inference is from a diverse landscape of observations and I stand by it. In my opinion – most people do not handle “power” very well.Very well is (I know) way too relative and open ended a measure of my belief. But if you have been there, done that and seen what I have, you must be knowing what I am talking about.When I say power, I am talking about the designation in the professional world and the attributes that are tied to it. There is no spite involved in my reference to this certain group of people. There is pure – “giving in to the obvious”. This is not venting. This is trying to muse over how many times I have encountered such behaviour. I consider myself a complete misfit in the politics of corporate survival and from that stems the realization on why I “don’t care” anymore. To be honest I feel bad for them because in their haste to arrive at their authority induced orgasms, they are missing the bigger picture. They are running out of time that is available to do what is right and not what is the best fit solution to a self candy. As unfortunate as they are, they are also highly ignorant about this lack in their rationale and their capacity to not let their personal likes and dislikes take over.

The SI units of power is watt.But in my self created units of measurement …”what !!” (yes, the exclamation is key) is the unit of the power which allows the not so qualified or not (still not spiteful, just candid) people who are in a position of decision to throw their pseudo weight around. And just when you think you have seen all kinds of them someone is ready to spring out of that fluff induced cake of sweet nothings.They do not cease to amaze me, especially when sometimes it is several times within the limits of a few minutes of conversation and I tell myself .. he just scored some serious power points in crap talk. The definition of the “what !!” power …..the denominator is time (out of personal life) of the victim and the numerator is work done (most of the time this is reinventing the wheel) by the victim to achieve what would give our esteemed individuals their “power” moment of the day. Happy is the guy (in power) who leaves early on a Friday afternoon for his golf lesson, knowing well, that there is some very scared worker (whose weekend plans have been demolished) working away to feed his already obese ego.You have been served. Join the club !!

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green bag …..

There was an email this afternoon (was super busy) from the Account Executive of the hotel that we (the team) have been staying in, since the last week of January. “I want to stop by around 4pm and meet you” that is if I had the time. I did not pay too much attention to it. My interactions with her have been very limited – to the effect of getting everyone in the team a decent rate on a room to camp at night.I knew she was usually not at the hotel but at the corporate office and that was that.The phone vibrated to her call and I took the elevator down to the second floor.One of the attributes of the area we work in, is the extreme sensitivity of the information we deal with, on a daily basis. This translates into us not having access to the rest of the company (which can sometimes be very boring).I digress !!

I met her in the lobby and we exchanged greetings.And then talked about how busy we both have been and have never really met though we keep communicating via emails and phone calls.And then she handed me the green bag !! Full of snacks and bottled water and other nice goodies.Most of them very healthy choices.I was very impressed. I thanked her for her kindness and we parted.For an economist this would probably be a case study of the current financial ambiance where loyalty is gold. And there would be the unimpressed who would probably throw a sneer and say – ” Oh!! she did not do anything unusual’. But to me (a common man) it was a moment of courtesy and recognition.It was good customer service !!

Is this the best hotel in this zip code? Heck no. Matter of fact it would be easy to count the “lacks” than the “haves”. But we must (I believe) learn to appreciate. And this is my effort on the same. Today is Earth Day and that “green” bag was symbolic !! It is gestures like these which will make customers (like me) choose hotels (businesses) like them over the instant clout of posh banners. I had rather take the coach class seat next to the awesome travel companion than the first class next to no one.Thank you Michelle !!

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If you walked into Flight 1416 on Monday mornings while it is making up it’s mind on the right time to take off in spite of all normal temperature and pressure conditions – you would, with me, find a plane full of under slept passengers with mouths wide open contributing generously to the resonance of plane engine and the stale air of the aircraft.Enough said, you get the picture.I was getting my usual dose of shut eyes before the take off jerks me up to drift back into the slumber. But somehow the internal clock told me, this delay is not on time.Of course not !! So I snore myself awake and find us still waiting at the gate.There has been zero utilization of kinetic energy.So I asked the Zune nurturing teenager (with the pink nail polish and the bling shoes) – “what are we waiting for?”. She let a chuckle slip out of the glossed lips and I heard the most bizarre of the reasons ever, about a delay. “They are waiting for the food!!”. And I told myself – “Get the F#@$ out!!”. On the outside I let out a sneer.Why? Because that is a joke. If you fly anywhere within the fifty states you know that there is no food unless you are in the first class.And there is food in the form of palm sized plastic cups loaded with ice for an excuse of a soda for the coach crowd.So what we have here is a classic case of food wait when there is really no food save a few bags of pita chips,pretzels and Twix for the premium mob. I am sure it was worth the delay !! I am sure this was of higher priority than the schedule !! 
 
About the same time last year, 7387 miles away from this dying city, we took a mid morning flight from Delhi to Udaipur.We arrived at the airport early, worried if a couple of hours before the take off should be enough for us to get ourselves through the crowd (ignorance is a bitch…!!). Little did we know that flights in India wait for you.Literally!!. They announce your name and plead and coax you into finally getting on the bus which will take you to the best 45 minutes of your flying experience till you get your next one.We were delighted to be shown the Jet Airways lounge (we had the elite tickets….I am almost ashamed to admit) where we had access to the best food that you can want in a couple of hours after a heavy breakfast at your friend’s home and a new meal waiting to happen – mid air.Wait I just gave away the climax.The food !!! O boy !! The care, the attention, the swiftness and finally the smiling faces – I love every airline company in India.They are always carrying this bright smile on them (we all know that is not a true reflection of their personal lives…this is life, stuff happens) and you literally are provided with a royal treatment.Of course if you wanted to, you could argue – how is this royal ?? And I will tell you. Come fly in one of the fifty states on any airline. And go crazy, go first class. Hell, I will buy you the ticket (just kidding …!!)You will know what you are privileged with.This is a grand mix of reminiscence and gratitude towards the hard working individuals in this business and especially to the airport staff of Udaipur airport who took extra care of me. I shall talk about that on another day. Right now I want to close my eyes and replay the memory of the bhetki in green sauce with basmati rice, the mango mousse and the jeera paani and the other pieces of bliss.We felt pampered and sometimes that is all you need, especially when it is a vacation, coming home…….thank you Jet Airways and the others in the flying business !!! Kudos !!! 

 

I was feeling really well this morning. I have had my nap on the flight, so I was rested and I was ready for the warm weather NJ had promised on the weather websites.But that was not to be.As I am finishing up on this post , I had to take breaks to use the nasal spray for sinus congestion.Apparently this is the pollen season and like a true member of this populace, I am a victim.Unbelievable !! I remember I used to be sneezing with the dust in Chennai, but not like this. This is annoying and I hate to use the chemicals to suppress my bodily reactions to this indolent lifestyle.We need to go to a fitness club, pay a monthly membership and join the others – to break a sweat !! Take a peak members of the western world at the tropical climate and the lifestyle and the food they eat.Everything teaming up to facilitate some serious metabolism. And you don’t hear often, about companies who need to lure their employees with a health club reimbursement plan – to stay healthy !! Or maybe you do !! There is this pot of boiling water on the stove in the hotel room – my version of the humidifier as I get ready to call it a day. Another Monday of another week!! Week 16 of ’09 to be precise !!  

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encirclement …worship

Why were Sony, 3M and CAT in the news recently? Because they are extremely reputed organizations with global presence and have offices in France? Close.But that is not all. The news called it “boss kidnap(s)” and it happened when employees were told that there would be lay offs.No arms involved.On the contrary the management was allowed to walk around and was offered french baguette when hungry and hot coffee to stay awake. The employees had just kept their boss under office arrest. At the end of this effort there were negotiations and then everyone went home happy.Well most of them. This to me brought back memories from the villages of Tripura. Back in the day, we called this effort – “gherao”!

I do not remember how old I was when this happened ! But there are extracts from my memory which are not wiped out.Like the part where Baba was surrounded by hundreds of hourly workers who represented the union.He was in his tiny office which had a steel frame chair and a steel table.On the table were a couple of paper weights, the ones which have the floral designs on the glass globes. Giving them company was a pile of blueprints and a glass of water.I had not seen any of this.Someone else had narrated the whole incident – after the fact.The demand – I don’t know, was too young to realize.But memory of the incident – scary !! He was “gherao-ed” for 36 long hours !! Without food, water and bathroom privileges !!

The chief minister came to “resolve” the issue, political points were scored and an exhausted engineer (who graduated from one of the premium institutions of India) returned home with a swollen face and high blood pressure to a terrified wife and a son who can only look back at those days and feel even more spite towards this culture. Funny how when I looked up “gherao” – it actually has a definition – encirclement !! There are hundreds of such engineers (or individuals in a position of authority) all over India who are victims of this so called “labor movement”. Sometimes these protests turn hostile and even fatal. The government (be it at any level) awaits the situation to deteriorate till the over all mood reaches melting point and then intervenes to grow their respective support base.It is a “win-win” for them, with zero effort!

When this happens with the Sony’s and the 3M’s – it makes world news. But there is this hard working and not so hard working union culture which prevails in India. There are several unsung heroes who maintain their calm and never once look down upon the players. They know, that they cannot hate the player. They may hate the game.And they do not give up. They wake up the next day and the day after , year after year and they go to work where history (in its worse form) may be re written all over again.Who is the real victim ? The individual? The family? The work ethics? When will work really be worship?

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