Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review - A Better India A Better World

A Better India A Better World - N. R. Narayana Murthy: This is a collection of lectures or speeches from the founder and former CEO of Infosys, given at university convocations, leadership seminars, or published in business magazines. It is interesting to learn Infosys' early challenges to even import a computer or make a week long foreign trips, when licensing and stifling for-ex and import customs control were in place, as well as how the founders formulated the vision to be the most respected software services company. The book cites the typical challenges in India - corruption, poverty, over-population, inordinate delays, inefficiencies, lack of political leadership, good education, intellectual honesty, responsibility, accountability and so on. The solutions proposed are a bit more insightful than in "Imagining India", written by his fellow Infosys founder Mr. Nandan Nilekani, but again lacks the punch as to why they would lead to a better India. For example, it suggests creating a judiciary with a jury system, and use eminent citizens to head corruption courts - but it is not clear why this would this work when intellectual dishonesty prevails, and when private individuals are also corrupt? He himself admits private scandals such as Harshad Mehta's stock scam and cricket match fixing scams were bigger than public corruption! He'd like English and more Religion taught in schools - it is possible to appreciate his views, since he claims being articulate in English is important, and teaching religion inculcates values and appreciation for other beliefs. However, one may argue it can cause more drop-outs since much of the population can't even read/write in their own language and may quickly give up on English, and it is not necessary to teach religion to inculcate values - fact is many schools are already religion based (Christian missions, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim trusts), and indulge in a boat load of religious indoctrination starting with prayers, so the country might be better off not teaching more religion! The book quotes from so many leaders such as Gandhi, Churchill, Kennedy, Greenspan, Aristotle, Mark Twain, Samuel Johnson, Bernard Shaw, C. K. Prahlad, Einstein and others, as well as many Sanskrit hymns - of course, it is useful for speeches, but it also makes it seem one can easily fill a book with others' quotes! Also, some of them repeat since they were reused in different speeches. Criticism aside, it was interesting to read about his request for 240 page passport, since Indian IT professionals travel so much and require visas, seminars for 25 years in Bangalore for a power plant that still hasn't happened, and the leadership of JRD Tata who paid attention to detail by even inspecting plane toilets. The book also talks about Compassionate Capitalism, Travails of Philanthrophy and Entrepreneurship and has some good advise and insights on these topics. Overall, good as a library pick, but not sure if the collection of lectures warrants a 500 rupee price tag!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review - The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels - Michael Watkins: An easy to read and recommended book with good suggestions for someone taking on a new manager or leadership role. Clearly, the first few days count to establish credibility, authority and the book suggests how to take stock of the situation (turnaround, vs. realignment vs. sustaining etc), how success in prior job may not imply same thing will work in the new role, how to chart out a strategy by negotiating with new boss, setting expectations, building a team, handling politics, past peers etc. Handy as a checklist if there is a job change situation

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Palimony vs Alimony - Indian court definitions

India's supreme court was deliberating on the possibility of awarding some type of alimony for live-in relationships, citing palimony in California as example. I was a bit surprised, since California did not recognize common law marriage, so awarding any form of alimony for such live-in relationships would recognize them as marriage and would be contradictory. Turns out, palimony in California is not based on rights as a married couple - the claiming spouse must prove some other underlying implied contract, written or oral, that forms the basis of the getting some compensation. I was wondering how the Indian courts would apply this logic in the Indian context.

Finally, the Indian court ruled no palimony unless a few things are satisfied such as live-in relationships for significant period and they conduct themselves as husband and wife to society. Just weekend stays, one-night stands, only for sex relationships don't qualify. Bottom line, they have mixed up marital rights with live-in relationships if the husband-wife thing can be shown. No time line is specified, so even a six month live-in with some basis of husband-wife (maybe they lied so to rent a place!) could end up in a life-long alimony (or palimony) award!

Nobody wants to look at other California guidelines on alimony that makes it crisp, predictable and fair - like, roughly 40% of income awarded to non-earning spouse. regardless of gender, for roughly half the time the marriage. For whatever reasons, Indian regulators love fuzzy logic!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review - Imagining India

Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani: This book is a little over 500 pages, written by Infosys co-founder and former CEO. My six year olds were asking me how long I could read so many pages, and how long I'd take to finish - turned out it only took me a couple of days to finish cover to cover! That was because, much of the book was history of India, more of visualizing the past as opposed to imagining the future. Roughly 75% of the book presents policies, politics, population and problems from Nehru's time - corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy, caste, religious and regional politics - stuff that people have experienced first hand, or have read in other books, so it was easy to breeze through. A few insights were useful, but most seemed shallow. The author says India's demography is young and Infosys average age is 27 years old - but I am not sure we can connect the two. In fact, I have seen Infosys job advertisements clearly asking for Date of Birth along with resume, so it may just be due to plain age discrimination! Another place the book echoes the conventional notions that caste purity and pollution as silly and child marriages as evil - definitely true in today's context, but mention of why they came about would help set right context why we can imagine doing without it (like, fear of disease, control of natural resources for caste discrimination, low average life expectancy (35 years in 1947) forcing early marriages). The remaining 25% talks about the need to change many things - primary and higher education, health care, social security etc. I felt legal reforms, basic ethics, habits, traffic sense were left out. Some solutions are presented from experts, experiments and experiences in India and abroad, like how Information Technology (IT) will increase transparency, reduce corruption, why US type social security won't work, as well as his pet idea of Universal ID for every Indian. However, I felt it lacked the punch that an economist or politician from years of experience would have delivered!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ayodhya Verdict - Ask What Wins instead of Who Wins!

Few things I learned, found surprising and intriguing about the Ayodhya verdict.

  • Ayodhya means "No war" or "Unconquerable"! Neither seems to apply with the legal battle over 60 years old, and the political and religious war started since the 1500s. In those times, it was symbolic for Muslim invaders like Babar to assert political power by replacing a prominent religious structure or renaming cities - Istanbul is an example for both.
  • First, the judges decided the title was not clear based on facts, hence it became a partition decision. Otherwise, the homes you and I own could also end up in dispute with some idols installed overnight! Then, the judges started applying a mix of facts and faith to provide a judgment that they felt could work for everyone.
  • Ram Lalla (Baby) as an infant deity had legal rights and won 1/3rd of it's birth place! A friend or guardian of the deity will act on its behalf! Apparently, this has precedence in Indian courts with several temple deities involved in legal disputes. This is similar to a company as entity, with the board or management acting on its behalf.
  • Justice Khan wrote in his judgment that Ram epitomized tyag (sacrifice). In fact, Ram gave up entire Ayodhya, including the birth place, the palace, the throne and the people, and left to the forests for 12 long years in order to fulfill his father's promise. If the promise was life-long, he would have accepted that and given up Ayodhya life-long as well. However, his followers after several thousand years don't even want to give up a 60x40 feet piece of land in Ayodhya!
  • Nirmohi Akhara won 1/3rd of land. Nirmohi means non-passionate or detached materially from earthly pleasures, and Akhara is an order of saints called sadhus. A non-passionate order of saints have passionately fought for this piece of earth for over a century (they first filed a suit in 1885) - that kind of detachment is mind boggling!
  • Justice Sharma gave a dissenting verdict totally favoring Hindus, but it was based on carefully studying Muslim law! He reasoned it can't have the character of a mosque, since the Quran doesn't allow building over other religious structures, and it doesn't have minarets typical of other mosques. The judge has an impeccable 40 year service record, title expert, and is a reclusive bachelor - makes it difficult for critics to find fault!
  • The judges agreed there was a temple, and the mosque was built over it, based on archeologist findings. But, Justice Khan wrote that there was no demolition, just built on temple ruins! The belief that Ram was born exactly in that site or spot came about only in the 1800s. It was called Masjid-i-Janmasthan (Mosque in Birthplace) back then, so the faith or belief seems several centuries old.
  • A grand temple is not possible in 60x40 site or even in 2.7 acres, though Hindu groups project that as the big idea! The Meenakshi temple in Madurai, or Akshardham in Delhi are more than 10 acres!
All the legal, political and religious opinions notwithstanding, the best solution that would make economic or business sense for both communities is building a Ram temple! It will maximize the religious tourist potential, just as Amarnath, Haridwar or Tirupathi, pull hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Surprisingly, Andhra is #1 state in domestic tourism partly due to Tirupathi temple - not even Kerala, Goa or Himachal!). In Kashmir, it is said a Muslim actually discovered the Amarnath Ice-Siva-Linga around 1850, and until recently, the cave temple management board included Muslims! A lot of muslims provide services along the yatra (trek), that even separatist groups agreed to leave it alone! Like Haridwar, Ayodhya is listed as one of the seven holiest Hindu cities in ancient texts, and the Muslim population in and around the city with clear title or just residency will benefit from increased tourism. A mosque is unlikely to pull such crowds - in fact, there are very few Muslims and few other mosques in Ayodhya itself, but quite a few Muslims reside 7kms away in Faizabad. So, I think a Ram temple would be a win-win for both communities!

The real losers are Atheists, Rationalists or Evolutionists or such types, as they'll have to do more to influence and pull people out of beliefs and faith. It's a double whammy if both temple and mosque are built! For them the winning solution is like in Istanbul - where the religious structure was converted to a museum, with any worship banned! I think the judges sensed that wasn't quite possible in the Indian secular context!