Saturday, January 31, 2015

A new Mukul ready to blossom or will it be nipped in the bud

Though the tremors within the Trinamool are nowhere close to the implosion that seems to be brewing in Congress,  the under-currents are palpable. In this context, the optics surrounding Mukul Roy’s deposition before the CBI yesterday is very significant.

A keen observer of West Bengal politics told me in Delhi the other day – if CBI does not detain Mukul after the interrogation ( as they did in the case of Madan Mitra and others before this) it will be a greater cause of worry for the party than if he were to be arrested.  Exactly something like that seems to have happened.

It is a matter of speculation – why Mukul spent so much time in Delhi since summons were issued to him by the CBI – now almost 3 weeks back.  It’s also noteworthy – CBI themselves didn’t press for the deadline of  January 21st it had originally set and allowed him to take his own sweet time to appear before them.  If CBI was concerned about his tampering with evidence or influencing  potential witnesses – they should not have allowed that extra time (and, also allow him to leave after the interrogations  yesterday). Mukul  himself  hasn’t denied rumours about him meeting the  BJP brass in Delhi and some BJP leaders have also acknowledged that approaches for meetings at the top level were indeed made.

But, changing sides or jumping the ship cannot be the game-plan of a master strategist and “Mr Cool” like Mukul  Roy. For him a more potent weapon would be a veiled threat for leading a revolt in the party. And, that’s exactly the card he seems to be playing. For, BJP too a split within Trinamool (and possible subsequent alliance with the splinter faction) might work far better than direct defections. In this context – one must also take note of BJP first announcing the impending cross-over of a large TMC contingent at Amit Shah’s January 20th rally in Burdawan and subsequently calling it off “for the time being”. It’s not difficult to guess – in case of a division – which way this lot is going to go.

Before and after yesterday’s CBI deposition Mukul’s messages were very clear and sharply defined. First, he was willing to cooperate with the investigation as he wants the “truth” to come out (contrary to the combative stand taken by the party). He himself has not done anything “anaitik” (improper or unethical – as distinct from “abaidha”or illegal).  The selective ‘leaks’ from CBI about what he has disclosed are also very significant.  In short, they can be interpreted as a “sneak preview” of  things that might  come later.  (“Kahaan Abhi Baaki Hain”..wait for the next episode). 

After he came out of the CBI Office (it seems he had indicated to his supporters while going in that he will not be kept beyond 4 PM and that’s exactly when he emerged) his supporters cheered him by name “Mukul Roy Zindabad” (not mentioning either Trinamool or the party supremo) and it seems they weren’t even carrying party flags.  Finally, came Mukul’s own statement – “had it not been for this day, I wouldn’t have realised how much the people of West Bengal love me”.  No ambiguity in what he wanted to say...”make no mistakes I have my own support base”.

Mukul Roy is regarded one of the shrewdest political brains and party organiser in Bengal of recent times – second only to, perhaps, the legendary CPIM State Politburo Secretary – the late Anil Biswas, to whom the Left owe much of their 30 years of reign.  While Trinamool’s rise have no doubt been due to Mamata’s crusading zeal and charisma – Mukul’s role in building the organisation from the grassroots is known to all. He has his key men placed in every district and ward, block and panchayat. He also controlled the party’s finances. It may not be an exaggeration to say he was to Mamata Banerjee what Amit Shah is to Modi.

Many question his allegedly dubious antecedents. But, the saying “There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future”  - holds true for Politicians as well.  Especially, if there is the Hooghly close by to have a holy dip and wash away your sins.

Is a new “Mukul” ready to blossom in West Bengal this spring or will it be nipped in the bud as it were – the coming weeks will tell.

Article first published in click here to read

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Deepika's Dips

A few days back I had tweeted in jest – is it ok to lust over someone who one has seen as a baby? The reference was to the young ‘Diva’ Deepika Padukone. As a toddler, she used to come regularly to my then boss’ apartment – neighbour of the Padukones in Bangalore - to play with their daughters.  After the “cleavage” controversy Deepika made news again by talking openly about her recent tryst with depression (click here to read article) .  This is the kind of new-age women – good looking, successful and sharp - who don’t hesitate to talk freely about her body, mind (and ‘soul’?) -  I like and, perhaps, given a chance may have fallen for :)

But, I won’t dwell here on how brave it was of Deepika to discuss problem of emotional dip with a journalist. Nor will I embark upon an analysis  of how or why actors (especially the women) are prone to psychological disorders  - as a lady columnist ( who started her career as an editor of a film-magazine)  did - sadly mixing up schizophrenia (of another talented and beautiful Bollywood actor of the 80s) with clinical depression.

At the outset, I must make the disclosure that I am neither a psychologist nor psychiatrist and, hence, not technically qualified to write on what is a subject for specialists.  Mine’s an entirely layman’s point of view – based on observations of people around me at work, family and social circles and, above all, myself.

What I found remarkable in Deepika’s case – apart from her own openness to recognise the problem and seek professional help – was the supportive role of her mother. According to Deepika’s own account – on one of her visits to Mumbai, her mother sensed something was amiss and on returning to Bangalore consulted a psychologist friend who flew down to assess her condition and put her on therapy.

Many of these psychological problems start early.  In today’s world conditions like ADD / ADHD are common-place.  Stress and anxiety sometimes manifest into other disorders like OCD. Timely intervention can save many a careers (and, in case, of acute depression even lives). Parents and teachers are best placed to identify it. But, they seldom do – either out of ignorance (very often) or shyness to accept that something could be wrong with their child or ward. Teachers are often afraid about hostile reactions from parents.  What are tackled are more obvious issues like Drugs and addictions – but that too not always in time.

Very often these are borderline disorders that don’t require any serious clinical intervention at all and can be solved by counselling and talk-therapy (like CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) .  But, the problem is the lack of such resources in our schools and colleges and the lack of accessibility to competent professionals, also the taboo associated with seeing psychologist or psychiatrist in our society. 

There have been occasions – when I have advised young relatives and colleagues to seek professional help for their children. Needless to say not all have taken to it kindly – others listen politely to give it a royal ignore – but few have done it to good effect. The problem always is to find a good doctor or counsellor. But, with some effort help is usually not far to seek.

But, what bothers me a lot more are cases I have seen during my now fairly long work career – where very talented individuals have been trapped and often lost their way both in personal and professional life due to psychological issues.  As people tend to live away from home, in unitary families and often alone (without traditional support-systems), maintain stressful and punishing work schedules psychological issues are on the rise.  While the more progressive organisations have been alive to “Occupational Health” – it seldom includes psychological health.  Few organisations would allow Medical Reimbursement for consulting medical health professionals or psychiatry related medicines (in most cases – employees will be reluctant to claim it too for fear of their condition getting known).  Attitude of HR and senior management towards psychological conditions is also viewed with suspicion.

Yet, it is surprising how many people don’t attain their full potential or operate far below par – due to psychological issues (either of themselves or close family members ) pulling them back. Depression – often called the ‘common cold of the mind’ – is of course rampant – but there are also cases of Bi-polar Disorders, Anxiety and Panic Attacks or problems associated with mid-career or mid-life crisis that can become career-limiting. This is where employers have a responsibility to step in and provide professional help of a "shrink"as it were - to use an American parlance.

I myself – candidly – could have benefited from therapy.  My own first exposure to psychology was from a catholic priest of my school – who himself in the throes of ‘mid-life crisis’ took a sabbatical and went to the US to pursue a course in psychology. He returned to realise – many of his fellow face similar psychological issues and need help. This led to his setting up a Psychological Institute within the “order” – which was originally intended for the priests but now has a flourishing general practice.

Though for some a look at Deepika can be the best therapy to get out of depression – often  it requires more serious intervention than that . Ultimately, things can only improve with awareness. And, for that lovely Deepika has done more than her bit.

Take a bow Deepika. 

The article was first published in the The Daily_O Click here to read

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Yin and Yang of Anushka Sharma's Lips

[PK becomes Bollywood’s biggest grosser ever]

Let me start with a few confessions.  I have not seen PK nor have any intention of watching it. I hold nothing against those who went for it and loved it. I am happy for Raju Hirani and Aamir Khan that the movie has been the highest grosser. I can only feel  sorry  for those who tried to get it banned or withdrawn from the theatres  but didn’t succeed. And, finally I agree with Anushka Sharma that what she has done with her lips is entirely her business and she is fine as long as Virat Kohli doesn’t have a problem. Others are free to like or dislike her new look.

In fact, this last line pretty much sums up my position on all works of art – whether it’s a book, painting, sculpture, theatre or movie. Take them for what it’s worth – feel free to like, dislike or reject but don’t decide on behalf of others. If it is trash – the public themselves will reject it, which would be the biggest snub to the one who has written or made it. A bad product sinks without a trace and  giving it undue attention can only bestow it with an added lease of life (E.g.– by talking too much  about Anushka’s  missing pout – it can actually turn to be a fashion trend like size zero. Just saying.)

The debate in my judgment lies elsewhere. The dichotomy between faith and rationalism has been in built into every society and religion from time immemorial – just as the conflict between the head and the heart in human nature. This is at times manifest in religious texts itself. While the Gita and Upanishads in Hinduism are largely intellectual – the Ramayana relies more on mythical allegories. (Though sometimes  people can try to invent  pseudo scientific explanations to myths such as plastic surgery to an elephant God or IVF or test-tube conception for a virgin).  These are the 2 sides of the same coin – the Yin and the Yang as it were. I always cite the example of perhaps the greatest legal luminary India produced – who was at once a devotee of Sri Aurobindo (who was as cerebral as one can get) and a miracle spewing saffron-clad hair-raising Godman of Andhra Pradesh. And, you have the example of Vivekananda himself – who was pure brain and his own Guru – Ramakrishna an embodiment of Bhakti and mysticism.

Belief in miracles or the power of penance,  pilgrimage and rituals has been there from the inception of mankind. It, perhaps, stems from man’s realization of his own limitations and the existence of a larger power in the universe – beyond his control – against whom he is but as helpless as an ant. It is to protect himself against such a  force or the elements does he seek the shelter of ‘religion’. Now to question,  whether these devices work – would be as self-defeating as arguing with a votary of homeopathy about the scientific improbability of such a therapy working. Call it ‘placebo’ effect if you will – but it may have its utility. Again to quote Sri Ramakrishna  - “Vishwas-e Mila-e Vastu, tarkey bohu dur” (faith dissolves of things that arguments can’t resolve) or the bard “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio..”.

How religion has been exploited over the centuries for geo-political ambitions ends is not the subject of this discussion. As long as the human race exists there will always be a ‘spiritual bazaar’ – where brands and products will come and go. I daresay ‘sexcapades’ under  saintly garbs or cassocks of priesthood have also existed since ancient times – across religions and countries. But, it is the marketing and building huge commercial empires around them that is a relatively recent phenomenon and merits deeper inquiry.

It’s no mean task to manage multi-crore commercial empires (I had read somewhere, one Yoga Guru’s net worth is reportedly valued at Rs 14k crores). Having spent a better part of my working life in Consumer Products and Media industry  I know a thing or two about the challenges and complexity of running a business. Any executive of FMCG companies like HUL or ITC  will tell you  – managing the supply chain, sales, marketing of 100s of SKUs (stock keeping units) across a nationwide distribution network is no “sadhu’s” play. Similarly, operating a business model out of producing and selling audio-visual labels, publishing, web-retailing,  event management and marketing calls for a high level of expertise, core-competency and, above all, requires a commercial organization. The successful marketing of the Patanjali Ayurvedic range can give Himalaya Drugs or Dabur a serious  run for their money.  And, ask Ponytail Chaudhuri how difficult it is to create a chain of colleges and Preetha Reddy or Devi Shetty about  hospitals.. These businesses or institutions can’t be efficiently and effectively run by volunteers alone. Most of them have franchises both domestic and foreign which are source of substantial revenue streams which too have to be managed and the earnings judiciously invested to generate continuous returns to  fund future expansions – just as Chief of Treasury in a large corporation would do. Many banks, professional fund managers, financial advisors and brokers have large Ashrams as their key clients. And, no wonder some of them have to engage private armies to manage acres of prime real-estate.

Management of Religious Institutional Businesses can, therefore, be the subject of Business School case studies and, one day, may be offered as a course in Harvard or Stanford.  It is my thesis  many of these God-men and Gurus are fronts . Behind them are clever businessmen  who run a sophisticate operation. They first invest in creating a brand (perhaps, even engage marketing or image management consultants) and then exploit it as a pure commercial venture.

But, where does that leave the poor devotee or  ‘Bhakt’ ? That brings me back to another favourite quote of Sri Ramakrishna – “Jadio Amar Guru Shuri Baadi Jaye, tobu O amar guru Nityananda Roy” – roughly translated – even though my guru may visit a bar or a brothel, he will always remain my Guru.  In essence, once you have surrendered at the feet of the Guru -  by that act itself if you have moved one step up the spiritual ladder. And, that’s also the key both these Godmen use as also Amir Khan and Raju Hirani who make commercially successful movies out of them. One man’s faith is another man’s business – or put differently Anushka’s lips may be a turn you and me off – but as long as the movie is a box office hit – who cares ?

(Article first published in the @DailyO on January 5th, 2014)