Thursday, August 25, 2011

the corporate gigolos

Neil Bose – my friend in college, a bright student otherwise – failed to get a first class in his Economics Honours. Calcutta University, of course, applied standards of evaluation that could easily make an Oxford Don stumble. Disheartened and disgusted with our examination system, Neil threatened to write a guide-book on “How to get a First Class – written by a ‘Second Class’ student”.

It’s an old adage – “those who can do, and those who can’t teach”. A great teacher need not necessarily have been a brilliant student – though, there is nothing to prevent it from being the other way round. The same true not just in academics but also in other fields of life – especially sports or music. Some of the best sports coaches - weren’t the champions of the game. Very often – in their own careers they fell short of reaching the top – despite being hugely talented. Chances are – they didn’t get the lucky breaks – but more likely they weren’t temperamentally cut-out for making it big. It is from their failures though they learnt the rules and tricks of success – which they could put to use good use in training others.

Old Boys' Badge Value

Executive Coaching – popular abroad, especially in the US, for quite some time - is catching on India like so many other western fads. Many former senior colleagues connecting on Linked-In and Facebook mention “Executive Coach” as their current occupation. Most of these are glorified announcements of “disguised unemployment”, but still some, I am told, have made a successful practice of it – adding handsomely to the generous superannuation package endowed in their favour by past employers. They largely rely on word of mouth recommendations of friends – much the same way they land on company board memberships through ‘old boys’ network.

Like external directors how much value they really add – is questionable. Only a few amongst them have actually undergone any kind of formal training or have an accreditation for coaching. Many don’t even have a HR or Organisation Behaviour (OB) background. A coach is supposed to operate somewhere between a mentor and a therapist. It requires certain skill sets and competencies like any other profession. These people generally don’t have any such specialization and fly by the seat of their pants. But, still they do have takers.

First, there is a badge value. It’s fashionable to have an executive coach these days – if you are seen to be a high-flyer within the organization. It’s almost like the craze among the rich, famous, yuppies and wannabes for personal trainers at their private gyms. A friend in the HR circuit educated me, it’s a ‘win-win’ formula. Earlier, companies would send their ‘hi-po’s for professional development or advanced management programmes to top management schools. Now, if you are of an employee of any value – it is difficult for an organization to spare you even for a couple of weeks to attend courses. And, even if they do – the incumbent is scared if he or she’d have a job upon return. For this – appointing a coach is a convenient solution. It probably costs as much or less than an external programme and the coachee doesn’t have to take time off from his or her job. Following a round of coaching and mentoring, there are usually some visible behavioural changes, which get reflected in 360 degree appraisals, at least in the short-term, that makes everyone – the boss, the sub-ordinate, his reports and peers – happy, setting in motion a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle.

a susegad after-life

If you have been wondering – where I am leading you to with all this circumlocution, it’s about alternative vocation options, something that I have been pondering over for a long time. There are only a few people I know, who have been able to make a successful career in mid-life or later. It’s not easy to re-invent one-self. Re-skilling is one of the most difficult tasks – though we may not always realize it. Displaced populations – land losers especially – realize it at the hard way. But, this is the “Age of Unreason” – Charles Handy, the Oil Company Executive turned management Guru and Corporate Philosopher had written about. It’s a modern day challenge to prepare for that day of reckoning – otherwise, we are left holding an “Empty Rain-Coat” – to use another Handy title – shorn of our corporate trappings.

Of course, a susegad (socegado) life in Goa would be what the doctor ordered for me. But, even my young daughter refuses to take me seriously when I talk about it. A moderate climate hill-station like Coonoor would have been good too. But, these places are fast getting crowded and running out of basic necessities like water. The bigger question, however, is having neither a hefty retirement corpus nor any other source of annuity - how will I sustain myself. The cost of medical treatment itself is frightening.

Using the same convoluted Bosean logic ( Neil, no relation of the now famous D K Bose), I think - I would have made a decent Corporate Coach (among so many other things) if only I had taken the pains to archive and chronicle all my mistakes and failures in corporate life. Coming to think of it – I have learnt more from bad bosses – some of them, of the Hari Sadu variety - than the ones for whom I loved to work. But, alas I don’t have either the network of contacts or the gravitas. A friend suggested that, a way to overcome the latter could be by getting into tele-coaching – where the coachee would not be able to see me. It seems – the client opens up more when he is not sitting under the glare of the coach or mentor in a chair or a couch – but instead relaxing on his potty or lying in bed with just undies on - scratching his front or back as a thought stimulator. Somehow, it sounds like being a corporate phone gigolo and doesn’t quite appeal to my finer sensibilities.

So my quest – for a corporate ‘after-life” continues. Till then, my downhill slide from one soul breaking job to another is ordained to continue – soaps and shampoos to sanitary napkins and diapers; (news)paper to concrete, as it were.

Any suggestions are most welcome !!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jai ho !!

It would be interesting to see how the show-down between the Government and the ‘civil activists’ pan out in the coming days. Will the government with its spin machinery and administrative might manage to scuttle it – like they succeeded in the case of Ramdev or will it fizzle out under the weight of their own inner contradictions, rifts and cracks that may open up thru’ the ruling party’s backdoor machinations ?

Some felt the movement may have lost steam in the long interregnum. I feel it's only gathered momentum. I was quite surprised the other day - when our domestic, a quiet sort of a chap otherwise, said - seeing Anna on TV - "Accha aadmi hai". I asked if he would support him - pat came his emphatic reply "Karta hoon na..". I sensed the same mood travelling across the country in the last few months.

Do the Congress and UPA Government crisis-managers and spin masters genuinely think l that, by hurling accusations at Anna Hazare & Co at this 11th hour they will be able to swing public opinion against him ? They must be kidding themselves in believing that raking up a 10 year old issue of Rs 2.2 lakhs allegedly spent by the trust on his Birthday celebrations - would demolish his moral standing for leading an anti-corruption crusade.

Frankly, the public would care a damn about Rs 2.2 lakhs controversy or any other skeletons from the closet that may be taken out at the last minute by the government’s dirty tricks department. They know how crores are spent to celebrate the birthdays of political leaders and although there may be no commission of enquiry to probe where those funds come from - the people have no illusions about who actually pay for such obscene extravaganzas. So, if the villagers had decided to celebrate the birthday of the man who has so selflessly devoted his life to change their lot – by spending a couple of lakhs , it’s simply not going to cut ice with the masses at large.

And, make no mistakes – we are not talking here about the “relative scale” – lest some of you are tempted to spring the argument that no amount of corruption can be considered too small. The issue as we all realize is much larger. If the surveys conducted by the various media houses are anything to go by – the nation is seething with anger against corruption – which they have been silently suffering for so long and has now reached Himalyan dimensions – and for the time they have found a credible vehicle for expressing their dissent.

I think the Sibals, Chidambarams and Salman Khurishids are missing the woods for the trees. We Indians love symbols. And, all of us understand that Anna is just a symbol for a much larger cause. Any other person in his place – say, an Arvind Kejriwal or a Kiran Bedi – would NOT have captured the imagination of the people in the way Anna has been able to with his beatific smile, Gandhian attire and the almost saintly simplicity and directness of his communication – which easily understood by the lowest common denominator, sans the rhetoric and intellectualisation of the establishment spokes persons or even his own compatriots. On the other hand, Ramdev’s credibility and integrity was suspect from the beginning. He had always had a huge set of detractors and skeptics who doubted both his antecedents and claims. It’s reasonable to believe that, he had been propped up by the government and, in the end , became victim of his own charlatan tricks.

But, the situation with Anna is far more tricky as the government had learnt in the first round itself. Thereafter, they had thought - trying to be clever by half – that they would trap them in the committee but had probably underestimated their tenacity. In their hearts – therefore, they knows it could be a ‘no win’ situation for them – unless they are able to sabotage the movement from within – which at the moment looks difficult. Otherwise, if they crack down on the protesters – it may trigger off wide spread agitations around the country. And, if they allow the “anashan” to continue – it has the potential of bringing the government tumbling. So, in a way they are faced with a Hobson’s choice – a mess they have only themselves to blame for.

I don’t also buy the argument that – in a parliamentary democracy one should have to come only through an ‘electoral” route. If that was true no popular movement – would have happened in any country. It is the very argument of corruption that goes against this logic. Strangely some of our intellectuals and political pundits seem to be supporting such a view. From their tweets and articles – denigrating any ‘extra-parliamentary’ movement, it would almost appear that they would prefer corruption to continue than any destabilization of life in the capital. With cost of elections being what they are today (in states like Maharashtra and Karnataka – a Loksabha ticket is rumoured to cost upwards of Rs 30 crores) – would any “civil” representative ever contest an election without being corrupt ? It’s laughable that, ministers are questioning the funding behind these agitations – would they care to explain how political rallies are conducted. Young Manish Tiwari - in his obvious eagerness to impress the first family - sounds like a modern day Goebbels when he says that, Team Anna is corrupt from “top to bottom”.

True the Lokpal may not be the panacea or “magic bullet”, to borrow a term from the colourful vocabulary of our articulate Prime Minister’s men – but it would , at least, drive the fear of God among our rulers to – if nothing else – temper their greed to a more "human" level, from the diabolical proportions it seemed to have reached now.

Long live the republic. Jai ho !!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Rocking Boudis

The advent of the “Bangla (Rock) Band” groups in the late 90s and early 2000 was – to my mind – a watershed of sorts in Bengali culture. Bhoomi, Chandra-bindoo, Krosswinds on one hand broke the shackles of the “Rabindric” culture and on the other, perhaps, unwittingly, liberated Rabindra-sangeet itself from its puritanical traditions (ending of Viswa-Bharati's monopoly rights helped the process) to find a more contemporary expression through a new breed of artists such as Lopamudra Mitra, Swagatlakshmi Dasgupta and Srikantanto Acharya – who no longer found virtue in shamelessly imitating the greats of yore and were confident enough to find a voice of their own, so to speak. In the bargain, they also vacated the rightful pedestal for the maestros - the likes of Debabrata Biswas, Suchitra Mitra, Kanika Bandopadhyay, Hemanto Mukherjee, Pankaj Mullik, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay - as also the more niche exponents like Shantideb Ghosh, Rajeshwari Dutt - to be savoured in seclusion of their permanent hall of fame.

Bengali cinema I think has gone through a similar churn. After losing its way for a while – both commercially and cinematically – following the demise of Satyajit Ray and since Mrinal Sen stopped making movies – while other veterans, the ilk of Tapan Sinha and Tarun Majumdar , faded away and the new crop of talent like Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Gautam Ghosh plateaued off somewhere along the line (Ray’s son Sandip remained hopelessly confined in his Dad’s Feluda series). For a long time – it was perhaps only Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh who kept the flag of up in the national film scene. Other than that, Tollywood – as they pretentiously coined the name for Tollygunj, the studio “para” of Kolkata – descended to unthinkable depths producing some atrocious low budget mimicry of the popular low-end Bollywood genre. Bengali Theatre appeared terminally ill – with Group’s like Nandikar, preferring to hold drama festivals with participants from across the country - instead of mounting original productions of their own. TV serials – trapped in a decadent middle-class milieu – were an affront to once acclaimed artistic sensibilities of the Bengalis.


Not surprisingly, there was no influx of any quality new talent on the scene. Among heroines it was Rituparna (Sengupta) and Prosenjit among the male stars who straddled between crass to class. For any other serious endeavours they had to import talent from elsewhere – be it an Aishwarya for Chokher Bali, a Rahul Bose for Aparna’s works, Nandita Das or at best our home-kid s Raima (Sen) or Konkona (Sen Sharma). In Antaheen, we had Radhika Apte a thetare actress from Pune and Aparna regularly casts Mumbai actors like Rajat Kapoor in her films. Sometime back, on a flight from Mumbai, I met a young girl Sriya (of mixed Punjabi and Bihari parentage) coming to shoot for a Bengali film.

But, things are beginning to change. Thankfully, intelligent movie making is back in vogue and discerning audience is once again being drawn to the theatres. Directors like Aniruddha (Tony) Roy Chowdhury ( maker of Antaheen and Anuraran) have come as a breath of fresh air – making films on contemporary themes that are both uplifting and entertaining. The quality of music in the films is also improving with composers like Shantanu Moitra (the songs and music scores of Antaheen are truly haunting. Listen to Jaon Pakhi by clicking here). More importantly, producers are willing to put their money on such projects – though the budget of Bengali films remains ridiculously low (less than a crore) – it probably costs more in Bollywood to film a single song (or item number) which sometimes involves travelling across the world to shoot its different sequences.

Bong belles and belly dancing

Over the last few weeks – we have been holding a series of company dealer meets across Bengal. The programme was compeered by 2 young actors - a rising starlet (Sonali Chowdhury) and her male counterpart , an upcoming “character artist” (Biswanath Bose). They weren’t exactly a Boman Irani – Lara Dutt combination on stage – but I was impressed by their refreshing spontaneity and unaffected mannerisms – which was a marked departure from the old “Santiniketan” style of conducting cultural shows. And yet, they didn’t ape the Hinglish brigade of Mumbai and MTV – in trying to look and sound hip. They were smart and had the self assured confidence of today’s generation but retained a local flavour and native Bengali wit and humour. In the past, we have flown down ‘B Grade’ MCs from Mumbai – but, I thought, they jarred and failed to connect with the crowd as these youngsters did.

No entertainment today is complete without a generous dose of Bollywood and the mandatory Sheila ki Jawani. But the performances here were much more slick and tastefully than I had imagined having seen such shows in the past. Particularly impressive was the surprise entry of the dusky Paoli Dam – otherwise seen in art films – looking ravishing in a glamorous item number, making people forget the Kazhakstani Belly dancer - Shahira - who was on stage just before her.

That brings me to the changing concept of Bengali Beauty. Now dusky is in. Gone are the times – when our Mashima-Pishima’s would lament their favourite nieces and nephews becoming “dark” (eki re tor emon raang kalo hoye gecche keno ?...aagey koto pharsha cchilli “). Who would have thought earlier that a Paulomi, Radhika (Apte) or Sriya could capture the Bengali imagination.

Morning walk in Saree and 'keds'

But, the change is happening also at another level – literally !!. Earlier – the Bengali’s idea of beauty began and ended with the face (“Ma Lakshmir moton mukh”). Exercise was taboo for Bengali women and girls were seldom encouraged to play games or even take up sports like swimming seriously. Ladies started morning walks in sarees and “keds” only after they were diagnosed of blood ‘sugar’ (Diabetes) and took to yoga on developing arthritis. So you saw some of the most beautiful faces mounted on shapeless figures draped under the all concealing attire – the saree. (Katrina Kaif hadn’t arrived on the scene then to shrink the 9 yards to little over 9 inches ).

from 9 yards to 9 inches

Now Bengali girls are regularly hitting the gym. Bipasha – if not Karina – are their role models (one must give some credit to Rituparana as well - who was probably the first leading Bengali actress with a figure to flaunt). Vandana Luthra’s Slimming Salons are opening all over including in moffusil towns. Gone are the times when – as the rotund Rabindra Sangeet artist sang with a great deal of feeling “Aamar ei deho khani tuley dhoro” (invoking the Lord to lift the temporal body - figuratively of course ) someone from the audience said out aloud “Kshama korben - Parboi Na, Parbo Na” (sorry, can’t do that – implying you are too heavy !!). Today, it’s such a pleasure to see Paoli in tight body-hugging costume being lifted up in the air by her male accompanists in the dance troupe or a Sonali carrying off an off shoulder western gown with √©lan.

the gym-ing boudis

So far so good !! A friend told me, the mushrooming gyms and the Vandana Luthra slimming salons that have sprung up all over – even in mofussil towns - are not an unmixed blessing. As scores of ‘boudis’ make a bee-line for them and shed sarees in favour of jeans and tank-tops – the divorce rate in the state has gone up exponentially.

But, all said and done Bengal is in the cusp of a socio-cultural transformation. Now, if only the economy looked up a bit !!