Thursday, June 28, 2007

Barcelona - A nice city indeed

Normally first 24 hours to any new city are not always pleasant. Unknown foreign environment, suspicious over eager sellers, lack of familiar company and so on. Barcelona is one of the few cities that I enjoyed in my first 24 hours and this enjoyment remained for next 5 days.

Alighting from the old Alitalia MD aircraft, Barcelona airport greeted passengers with parallel red and green lines pasted on chipped Italian tiles directing towards luggage collection. But suddenly, both colours went in opposite direction making all foreigners confused. Young girl at the reception couldn’t speak English but she came along the green line to show non Spanish speaking visitors the gate towards luggage collection. That’s where Spain differs from France. Both countries get a lot of foreign visitors but France let you know that you are a foreigner and unwelcome if you don’t know French. In Barcelona, not many know English yet they welcome you with smile and friendly demeanour. No wonder Spain is the most popular tourist destination in the world.

In my 24 hours in Barcelona, I learnt something about this city that is unique in the whole of Western Europe. In the centre of Barcelona, books shops are almost at every block much the same way most other cities would have a pub. How I envied those people who would sit on the benches under the green tress, basking under sun and spending hours reading a book. I also observed that every apartment facing the road have a balcony with grilled iron work and green sun shield that look like operation gown.

What did I like about Barcelona so much …?

Taxi drivers are honest, friendly and courteous. Taxi and Public Bus have a privilege lane that is respected by every car driver. Most of the locales don’t know English but if you ask them anything they try hard to explain. Alas everything is in Spanish and seeing their sincerity, you make them feel that you have understood what they meant.

Every major road has a centre vista - for walking and bicycling flanked by trees – and has wooden benches. Bicycles are available at 1 Euro per week rent .There is no sign of druggist, drunkards or muggers, at least not that I could spot.

Most people are immaculately dressed, are in great shape and lover of food and drinks. But scenario on beaches is different, here they are scantily or sometimes with no attire and have passion for water sports and sun soaking in abundance.

Most buildings have similar height with ground floor dedicated to cafes and banks. The city is built with square building blocks with one corner of square chipped in to house a coffee shop with adjacent kiosk that sells newspapers and magazines.

And the list could have gone up had I got a chance to visit Gothic quarters and Art galleries.

This visit made me know two great names that of Joan Miro – a painter and Antonio Gaudi – an architect that I was ignorant of. I also learnt the fun of drinking beer from half yard glass with wood rack that looked straight from chemistry laboratory along with the danger of spilling it on one's shirt when it comes to gulping bottoms up.

Walking along the Diagonal and Platza Catalonia – major roads that houses banks, branded shops - was a pleasure and I almost did it everyday. On weekend, as evening was setting in, noise of bursting crackers transformed the city like a Deepavali. That day was San Juan feast – celebration of the longest day in the summer. 5 kms walk from convention centre along the beach overseeing on our left side beautiful scantily clad figures was interesting and entertaining. The reward at the end of this long walk was Spanish cuisine - sea food paella consisting of red prawns from Palamos. Seeing Indian and Pakistani teenage waiters in the restaurant made me admire their possible courage in reaching the European shores.

Eating at Italian, Mexican restaurants around convention centre and Diagonal Mall was fun and so was the view from the open sided balcony of AC Barcelona hotel of both the mountain and Mediterranean Sea on either side. Barcelona is similar to Beirut in that respect. Most memorable visit was to Cathedral Family Sagrada – an architectural wonder piece – that started work in 1886 and it still not finished. But this monument is so special that it needs a separate mention on my blog.

Every day, my taxi passed by Torre Agbar – water department building that looked more like erect missile jutted out from nowhere. I must say it looked ugly during the day but with colourful lights, classy in the night hours. Visit to Bodega – Spanish winery was an amazing experience. My respect for wine makers went up after seeing their efforts in preserving the wine over so many years in most complicated manner. I was elated when I got a chance to carry three wine bottles – one mine and other two gifted by my Saudi colleagues. But my joy was trampled to dust bin by immigration customs officer at Barcelona airport, who didn’t allow carrying any liquids in hand luggage.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Amazing Creation

Location: Tata Museum, Jamshedpur.

In the first pic, you can see a painting. This was a gift to JRD Tata on his Birthday by a street artist. Nobody was able to understand his art. Unfortunately, only the painting was given to JRD and the artist had promised to reveal the secret shortly . However, JRD was no more when the secret was actually revealed.
Here's the secret revealed. When you place a steel rod at the circle in the first pic you saw, you will see the image of the JRD Tata as a reflection on the steel rod as seen in the second pic below. Isn't it incredible!!


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Akshta - First Laugh


Friday, June 15, 2007

Narayan Murthy's story

Thanks to Srinivas Deo - my friend - i came to know about this lecture given by N R Narayana Murthy, Chief Mentor and Chairman of the board, Infosys Technologies, at the New York University (Stern School of Business) on May 9. It is a scintillating speech, Murthy speaks about the lessons he learnt from his life and career. We present it for our readers:

"Dean Cooley, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, the graduating class of 2007, it is a great privilege to speak at your commencement ceremonies.

I thank Dean Cooley and Prof Marti Subrahmanyam for their kind invitation. I am exhilarated to be part of such a joyous occasion.

Congratulations to you, the class of 2007, on completing an important milestone in your life journey.

After some thought, I have decided to share with you some of my life lessons. I learned these lessons in the context of my early career struggles, a life lived under the influence of sometimes unplanned events which were the crucibles that tempered my character and reshaped my future.

I would like first to share some of these key life events with you, in the hope that these may help you understand my struggles and how chance events and unplanned encounters with influential persons shaped my life and career. Later, I will share the deeper life lessons that I have learned.

My sincere hope is that this sharing will help you see your own trials and tribulations for the hidden blessings they can be.

The first event occurred when I was a graduate student in Control Theory at IIT Kanpur , in India . At breakfast on a bright Sunday morning in 1968, I had a chance encounter with a famous computer scientist on sabbatical from a well-known US university.

He was discussing exciting new developments in the field of computer science with a large group of students and how such developments would alter our future. He was articulate, passionate and quite convincing. I was hooked. I went straight from breakfast to the library, read four or five papers he had suggested, and left the library determined to study computer science.

Friends, when I look back today at that pivotal meeting, I marvel at how one role model can alter for the better the future of a young student. This experience taught me that valuable advice can sometimes come from an unexpected source, and chance events can sometimes open new doors.

The next event that left an indelible mark on me occurred in 1974. The location: Nis , a border town between former Yugoslavia , now Serbia ,and Bulgaria . I was hitchhiking from Paris back to Mysore , India , my home town.

By the time a kind driver dropped me at Nis railway station at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, the restaurant was closed. So was the bank the next morning, and I could not eat because I had no local money. I slept on the railway platform until 8.30 pm in the night when the Sofia Express pulled in.

The only passengers in my compartment were a girl and a boy. I struck a conversation in French with the young girl. She talked about the travails of living in an iron curtain country, until we were roughly interrupted by some policemen who, I later gathered, were summoned by the young man who thought we were criticizing the communist government of Bulgaria

The girl was led away; my backpack and sleeping bag were confiscated. I was dragged along the platform into a small 8x8 foot room with a cold stone floor and a hole in one corner by way of toilet facilities. I was held in that bitterly cold room without food or water for over 72 hours.

I had lost all hope of ever seeing the outside world again, when the door opened. I was again dragged out unceremoniously, locked up in the guard's compartment on a departing freight train and told that I would be released 20 hours later upon reaching Istanbul . The guard's final words still ring in my ears -- "You are from a friendly country called India and that is why we are letting you go!"

The journey to Istanbul was lonely, and I was starving. This long, lonely, cold journey forced me to deeply rethink my convictions about Communism. Early on a dark Thursday morning, after being hungry for 108 hours, I was purged of any last vestiges of affinity for the Left.

I concluded that entrepreneurship, resulting in large-scale job creation, was the only viable mechanism for eradicating poverty in societies.

Deep in my heart, I always thank the Bulgarian guards for transforming me from a confused Leftist into a determined, compassionate capitalist!Inevitably, this sequence of events led to the eventual founding of Infosys in 1981.

While these first two events were rather fortuitous, the next two, both concerning the Infosys journey, were more planned and profoundly influenced my career trajectory.

On a chilly Saturday morning in winter 1990, five of the seven founders of Infosys met in our small office in a leafy Bangalore suburb. The decision at hand was the possible sale of Infosys for the enticing sum of $1 million. After nine years of toil in the then business-unfriendly India , we were quite happy at the prospect of seeing at least some money.

I let my younger colleagues talk about their future plans. Discussions about the travails of our journey thus far and our future challenges went on for about four hours. I had not yet spoken a word.

Finally, it was my turn. I spoke about our journey from a small Mumbai apartment in 1981 that had been beset with many challenges, but also of how I believed we were at the darkest hour before the dawn. I then took an audacious step. If they were all bent upon selling the company, I said, I would buy out all my colleagues, though I did not have a cent in my pocket.

There was a stunned silence in the room. My colleagues wondered aloud about my foolhardiness. But I remained silent. However, after an hour of my arguments, my colleagues changed their minds to my way of thinking.

I urged them that if we wanted to create a great company, we should be optimistic and confident. They have more than lived up to their promise of that day.

In the seventeen years since that day, Infosys has grown to revenues in excess of $3.0 billion, a net income of more than $800 million and a market capitalization of more than $28 billion, 28,000 times richer than the offer of $1 million on that day.

In the process, Infosys has created more than 70,000 well-paying jobs, 2,000-plus dollar-millionaires and 20,000-plus rupee millionaires.

A final story: On a hot summer morning in 1995, a Fortune-10 corporation had sequestered all their Indian software vendors, including Infosys, in different rooms at the Taj Residency hotel in Bangalore so that the vendors could not communicate with one another. This customer's propensity for tough negotiations was well-known. Our team was very nervous.

First of all, with revenues of only around $5 million, we were minnows compared to the customer.

Second, this customer contributed fully 25% of our revenues. The loss of this business would potentially devastate our recently-listed company.

Third, the customer's negotiation style was very aggressive. The customer team would go from room to room, get the best terms out of each vendor and then pit one vendor against the other. This went on for several rounds. Our various arguments why a fair price -- one that allowed us to invest in Good people, R&D, infrastructure, technology and training -- was actually in
their interest failed to cut any ice with the customer.

By 5 p.m. on the last day, we had to make a decision right on the spot whether to accept the customer's terms or to walk out.

All eyes were on me as I mulled over the decision. I closed my eyes, and reflected upon our journey until then. Through many a tough call, we had always thought about the long-term interests of Infosys. I communicated clearly to the customer team that we could not accept their terms, since it could well lead us to letting them down later. But I promised a smooth, professional transition to a vendor of customer's choice. This was a turning point for Infosys. Subsequently, we created a Risk Mitigation Council which ensured that we would never again depend too much on any one client, technology, country, application area or key employee. The crisis was a blessing in disguise. Today, Infosys has a sound de-risking strategy that has stabilised its revenues and profits.

I want to share with you, next, the life lessons these events have taught me.

1. I will begin with the importance of learning from experience. It is less important, I believe, where you start. It is more important how and what you learn. If the quality of the learning is high, the development gradient is steep, and, given time, you can find yourself in a previously unattainable place. I believe the Infosys story is living proof of this. Learning from experience, however, can be complicated. It can be much more difficult to learn from success than from failure. If we fail, we think carefully about the precise cause. Success can indiscriminately reinforce all our prior actions.

2. A second theme concerns the power of chance events. As I think across a wide variety of settings in my life, I am struck by the incredible role played by the interplay of chance events with intentional choices. While the turning points themselves are indeed often fortuitous, how we respond to them is anything but so. It is this very quality of how we respond systematically to chance events that is crucial.

3. Of course, the mindset one works with is also quite critical. As recent work by the psychologist, Carol Dweck, has shown, it matters greatly whether one believes in ability as inherent or that it can be developed. Put simply, the former view, a fixed mindset, creates a tendency to avoid challenges, to ignore useful negative feedback and leads such people to plateau early and not achieve their full potential. The latter view, a growth mindset, leads to a tendency to embrace challenges, to learn from criticism and such people reach ever higher levels of achievement (Krakovsky, 2007: page 48).

4. The fourth theme is a cornerstone of the Indian spiritual tradition: self-knowledge. Indeed, the highest form of knowledge, it is said, is self-knowledge. I believe this greater awareness and knowledge of oneself is what ultimately helps develop a more grounded belief in oneself, courage, determination, and, above all, humility, all qualities which enable one to wear one's success with dignity and grace.

Based on my life experiences, I can assert that it is this belief in learning from experience, a growth mindset, the power of chance events, and self-reflection that have helped me grow to the present.

Back in the 1960s, the odds of my being in front of you today would have been zero. Yet here I stand before you! With every successive step, the odds kept changing in my favour, and it is these life lessons that made all the difference.

My young friends, I would like to end with some words of advice. Do you believe that your future is pre-ordained, and is already set? Or, do you believe that your future is yet to be written and that it will depend upon the sometimes fortuitous events?

Do you believe that these events can provide turning points to which you will respond with your energy and enthusiasm? Do you believe that you will learn from these events and that you will reflect on your setbacks? Do you believe that you will examine your successes with even greater care?

I hope you believe that the future will be shaped by several turning points with great learning opportunities. In fact, this is the path I have walked to much advantage.

A final word: When, one day, you have made your mark on the world, remember that, in the ultimate analysis, we are all mere temporary custodians of the wealth we generate, whether it be financial, intellectual, or emotional. The best use of all your wealth is to share it with those less fortunate.

I believe that we have all at some time eaten the fruit from trees that we did not plant. In the fullness of time, when it is our turn to give, it behooves us in turn to plant gardens that we may never eat the fruit of, which will largely benefit generations to come. I believe this is our Sacred responsibility, one that I hope you will shoulder in time.

Thank you for your patience. Go forth and embrace your future with open arms, and pursue enthusiastically your own life journey of discovery!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cyclone Gonu's havoc in Oman

Having stayed in Oman over many years, i can relate to most of these places , devastated by Cyclone Gonu that rocked the coast on Oman last week. Estimate of losses already run over a billion dollar.

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Raipur - A city that came on Medical Map of India

In early 80’s I visited Raipur few times while being on business visit to Bhilai. I also did visit Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Medical college to make some sales calls. But seeing the condition of the hospital, I felt it was better to relax in a hotel and have dinner at Girnar restaurant that served fine Indian food. After seeing the infrastructure conditions of this city, it was clear that Raipur got a raw deal compared to other cities in Madhya Pradesh such as Bhopal, Indore, Gwalior. During the course of time, I did know about a new state Chattisgarh that came into existence out of MP but forgot about Raipur that became capital of this new state.

On May 29th 2007, NDTV covered the news of ‘separation of surgery of 10 month old conjoined twins – Ram and Laxman ’. What surprised and stunned me that this surgery was to be performed in Raipur at Ambedkar Government Hospital. Suddenly images of cream coloured barren walls , open wooden benches and laboratory with worn out yellow stained glassware flashed my eyes. I started dreading about the functioning of Heart Lung Perfusion System, Anesthesia , Ventilator and monitoring systems in a Govt hospital that may not have adequate air conditioning and power back up. Suddenly, I was anxious about the outcome of this surgery and kept wondering what made the parents of these twins opt for Raipur to any major cities such as bangalore, new delhi.

And I am glad I was proved wrong on all my apprehensions. This Surgery not only became successful but today kids walked out of the hospital. NDTV did cover the news after 10 days but most other media didn’t give that much importance. In July 2003, the whole world and India media too covered the Surgery of Iranian twin conjoined twin sisters at Raffles Hospital, Unfortunately, both died 90 minutes apart from massive blood loss. I wish doctors and paramedical staff at this hospital got as much kudos as in Raffles Hospital.

Congratulations to team of doctors that included team of Amin Menon, a pediatric surgeon, A K Sharma, Chief Surgeon and others.

This one event in the state of Chattisgarh- considered as THE rural backward state ridden with poor infrastructure has undoubtedly highlighted the expertise and commitment of doctors that dedicate their lives in rural areas.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Saudi Arabia – relaxing the grip

Kingdom Tower : Riyadh

Four year ago : As soon as plane does a touchdown at Riyadh , ladies rush for their abaya (A loose, usually black robe worn, covering the body from head to toe and worn with a headscarf and veil )to cover themselves up.

Two years ago: Ladies walk out of the aircraft clad in normal attire, but while standing in immigration queue, take out Abaya and start wearing it before they arrive at immigration desk.

Now: They hardly bother about Abaya; go through immigration, baggage screening and customs. But as soon as they are out of the airport, they are in their ubiquitous black attire.

My four day trip to Riyadh, gave me this changing impression of Saudi Arabia .Albeit at snail’s place, Saudi regime is slowly relaxing their formidable Islamic grip on the society. No more customs officials ransack bags; tear the parcels, insist on switching on laptops to look for symbols that would connote Islamic blasphemy. Immigration clerk too are relaxed. Bags go through X ray machines and very little attention is paid unless it needs. Riyadh even now has FM that plays music. A far cry from those days when music was anathema to Islamic traditions. Satellite TV beam European and Indian channels – sometimes explicit in contents.

Riyadh over the years represented a city of hardliners; Dammam and Jeddah are relaxed and easy going. So if changes are visible in Riyadh, a wind of change is on its way. Women still cannot vote or drive but one never know if these rules too get relaxed. Women can now officially have their own identity cards, rather than being included on the card of their husband or father. Travel restrictions have been eased, allowing them to get blanket permission from a male relative for travel abroad, rather than needing separate permission for each trip. They can also own businesses instead of having to register them in the name of a male representative or proxy.

In old days – there would be heresay stories of Mutawa – religious moral police who have been made guardian of keeping Islamic morality intact. But they are losing their teeth with newspaper openly and blatantly publishing stories about their excesses under the guise of ‘Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue’. The religious police are indeed zealous in their work. I was surprised that we didn’t need to get out of the Italian resturant as evening prayer time began. In old days, if you happen to just start your dinner in a restaurant when the call to prayer sounds over the loudspeakers, you must leave the restaurant and your dinner until prayer is over. I remember standing outside internet café during prayer time. This resturant did pull the shutters down but didn’t evacualte diners.

Next to me, During my flight from Riyadh to Damam was 16 year old chubby, roly poly kid – who was restless all through the flight. He started scribbling on flight magazine with his ink pen. When he wasn’t satiated with his creativity, he transformed every model in the magazine into bearded man.i remembered my school days, when I mutilated famous authors in my textbooks. He soon got tired of this portrait making, pulled out his - fancy plastic dark sun glasses – and tried to snuggle himself to sleep bu pushing his head on the table tray. Slowly, he strick converstaion with me in his broken english. He was returning from Manila with his engineer father and seem to have been awed by Manila’s open and free lifestyle. He was on the threshold of adulthood but his innocence amused me. The last I saw him pulling out big suitcases from the conveyor belt .

I visited first time Kingdom Centre – a symbol of Riyadh - tallest skyscraper in Saudi Arabia and 25th tallest building in the world. Built by Al Waleed, top portion of the tower is shaped like ‘ bottle opener’ or ‘nail’ and lit up in changing colourful illuminations. At night, from a distance, the top portion looks like cobra snake with its open hood . Inside, building interior is not all that grand with shopping mall , a Four Seasons Hotel and state-of-the-art apartments. I didn’t go to the top floor to get a view of the whole city of Riyadh but heard from my colleague who had been to Italian resturant. In the lobby resturant, I saw Two white ladies wearing Abaya but without covering their head sitting side by side on a table next to a man. Obviously they must not be married to each other and so, strictly speaking, should not be together in public. But nobody in the lobby seemed to mind, but they appeared comfortable.

Al Khobar is a pleasant town, cosmopolitan, colorful and interesting place that is merged with Dhahran and Dammam. From large, modern malls, to small local shopping streets, the town provides all that the expatriate needs in terms of everyday requirements. I had lunch in ‘grill ‘ an Indian restaurant that proudly displayed its Indian connection – by pasting Indian photographs of Vaidynath chavan prash painted shop shutters, fisherwoman in Goa and Mumbai dabbawala. It was weird to see décor of hanging colorful dupatta over ones head. But food –Manchurian shrimp, fried rice with dragon soup was sumptuous. Eating Indian Chinese food in Saudi Arabia along with Palestine, Pakistani and Japanese was true example of globalization.

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