Thursday, October 29, 2009

Being Professional - A book review

I read this book - The Professional - by Subroto Bagchi.  This is not like one of the Who moved my Cheese.. kind of books.  Not as well written in my opinion, but makes up for it, in that it has a lot to offer for someone who hopes to be a good professional.

He does not discriminate between jobs. This is not just for the managerial cadre.  (I have never understood the term 'professional courses' in our country - does that mean, all those who are not engineers, doctors, lawyers are not professionals? ) .  All of us, whatever our jobs may be, according to the author, are professionals - and ultimately he says being a professional is a matter of personal choice, and the values we opt to live by.

Integrity is important, and he laments that this  quality is very poorly understood.  Even little things like misusing office stationery, long phone calls are all that one should consciously not be doing.  He also feels that one has to look beyond money, while base comforts are necessary, apart from that, the quest for material success erodes self worth.  As you advance in  your profession, he adds one should keep touch with the basics even as you start delegating to others, otherwise he warns, decay sets in.

Towards the end he lists out what being unprofessional is - missing deadlines, not respecting privacy of information, passing on the blame, mindless job hopping ....among others.

He writes, the day you feel empty, shift attention from yourself to others - go spend time time with those who have just joined the organisation, help an intern with his work, take on pro-bono work with an industry association - and - see how the pitcher of emptiness begins to fill again.

There is a nice bit of advice for the mid-career professional, for those who want to make a difference to society. Do small things on a sustained basis he says, do things for your profession; do not worry about changing the world.

Like I said, this may not be the best book, even though he has quoted a few incidents to illustrate various aspects, some of which I thought were unnecessary, it can even drag at parts, but this is writing that are not just words meant to impress.  It is a sincere narration of what he truly believes are values one should possess to be a good professional. A book that is easy to relate to.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Indian Tribal Art...

We discovered this store of tribal arts. When we first went past the dimly lit store, we almost didn't give it a second glance. But sensing a potential customer the lights came on, the air conditioners hurriedly pressed into operation. And lo! before us were shelves of rather messy, but beautiful tribal art pieces. At prices that were so reasonable .

What made shopping there even more enjoyable was the enthusiastic sales girl, who took delight in showing us around. Art pieces from all over India. This has now become our one stop shop for gifts.

Since then, I have been wondering how long these arts will survive. And what about the tribes?
For instance, the lambadas. I remember seeing so many of them in my childhood. They were in our city in such large numbers. They would set up home in any vacant land. But I guess as open spaces vanished, along with them the lambadas did too. I did not realise that their numbers had dwindled and they were no longer around , until I spotted one of them recently

I wonder how many of the tribe remain - or have they joined the mainstream?

There are mixed opinions on welfare programmes for the tribal. In case of the Jarawa tribes of the Andamans, there was a huge hue and cry that they had become objects of tourist curiosity and that their territory should be kept out of bounds to the civilians. When they are so close to civilisation, is it right to insist that they go back to their restricted area?
There are uncontacted tribes in the world, and in their case, it may seem justified to leave them alone. But what of those who are aware of the changing world around them?
And, selfishly, what of these wonderful arts? With rehabilitation programmes, would these be lost ?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The NRI and the Nobel Prize

Every time a NRI gets some recognition, the media goes berserk. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He left India when he was 19. The question some ask is : could he have won the Nobel Prize if he had continued to live in India? Good question.

My first job right after college was at a premier research institution. I was on cloud nine. I was in awe of the place, since I had used their library for reference work for my thesis . And to think I had landed a job there, that too my first job, straight after college.

I could walk in without being questioned. I did not have to sign the visitors book. I had to don a white coat and my name came up on the employee board right up at the entrance. It was a great feeling. The place was like I imagined it to be. The large well designed laboratories, the best equipment, the latest journals. The right atmosphere for anyone with a scientific bent of mind. Or so I thought.

The first thing that set off the disillusionment was the caste politics that existed. You would think science and religion did not go together. I was wrong.

Once a month, presentations were made of the latest research on various topics. I found the occasion seemed more for the staff to catch up on a nap. And for the young enthusiastic newcomers like myself, it was quite an effort to present a paper to a sleeping audience, that woke up just in time to ask a few questions.

There were also meetings with the director, where every group had to discuss their ongoing projects. This was another sham. The seniors presented the plan of work. Almost every project was ripped apart, and members told in no uncertain terms that the work carried out was insignificant. In some cases modifications were suggested. I was impressed. After all, one needed inputs from others.

When the group met next with the director, I realised to my shock that the projects discussed at the previous meeting continued as before. This happened meeting after meeting. And all that would come out of these meaningless projects were several papers that were sent off to journals. A lot of them would be rejected, but here the perseverance of the staff member paid off. The paper that came back would be sent to another journal, till it was finally accepted for publication.

It was not as if facilities were not available. They were the best, the brains were the best too, but the will to do something worthwhile was missing. The sub standard work that was carried out resulted in publishing of research papers that were essentially for furthering their career.

I worked at the research institute for over 2 years before I left. Long enough to be totally disillusioned. This was in the '80s. I am hoping the situation is different now. Only then can we hope to have a resident Indian who can bring laurels to the country.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jaws - 3

So, how much land does a man need? It brings to mind the story that was in my school book (many,many years ago for sure) – the story by Leo Tolstoy – How much land does a man need? A story which has remained etched in my mind.

In brief, Pahom a peasant is deep into debts. Some time later, he comes in possession of a small piece of land, and is able to pay off his debts and lead a comfortable life. But as is human nature, he gets greedy for more, stating "if I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!" In his quest for more land he is given a strange offer, where for a thousand roubles he can get as much land as he can cover in a day. The condition being, he marks his route as he sets out, but he has to return to the starting point by sunset. In his greed he covers a very large area, and when he realises the sun is setting, he has to run back. The crowd that has gathered cheers him on, and he finally manages to complete his task, but collapses as he does so. The crowd digs a grave for him of six feet in length. Six feet, ironically is how the story ends and is the answer to the question of how much land does a man need!

Morbid, but food for thought.
It is not that man does not have a need for property. He does. A roof over one’s head is definitely what one should strive for. But how?

We had the worst flood in recent history, and it was not just nature’s fury that was to blame. If it were not for land encroachments and indifference of officials some precious lives may have been saved, loss of property minimised.

Land sharks, it appears, has the backing of the underworld, the politicians, the MNCs.

In their greed, land meant for agriculture has been bought at throwaway prices for commercial purposes. Lake beds have been gobbled up . The dead are not spared either. Burial grounds that were probably on the outskirts when they were first earmarked for the purpose, are now large centrally located spaces , attracting the attention of unscrupulous elements. .

Illegal constructions come up or deviations from the original plan made with the connivance of the powers that be. Instead of punishing the errant builders, the government in AP has ordered those who have moved into these buildings to get the plan regularised for a fee. Thus penalising the innocent, and allowing the wrongdoers to go scot free.

Land grab occurs in the name of God too. Places of worship sprout overnight. These are novel methods by which public land is being seized . Some of them right in the middle of the road causing traffic snarls .

The statistics are startling. No single community can be blamed. The 2001 Census of India threw up numbers that are mind boggling. There were 2.4 million places of worship in the country (exceeding the number of schools, at 2.1 million) and most of them unauthorised. And therefore the Supreme Court’s interim order banning the construction of any temple, church, gurudwara, or mosque on any roadside or other public space comes as a relief. As the editorial in The Hindu states, banning fresh construction is the easy part, The real challenge is to deal with existing illegal places of worship, the number is anyone’s guess. Religion being a sensitive issue, it remains to be seen how the respective states act upon this order.

Jaws 3 seems more frightening than the prequel.
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