Category Archives: Guides

The What Ho! Guide to Economics

Long long ago, there lived a farmer named Jack. He had a beautiful wife and two lovely young children. Jack was very proud of his family and worked very hard every day in his field to raise crops and vegetables so they could live comfortably. In a few years, he built a nice little house for them. All was well and they lived happily and went to church every Sunday in the finest of attire. One day, unhappiness came to visit Jack’s house. He came back home to find his wife brooding and sulking. He enquired gently at first and then sternly but his wife sat silent and sullen. Finally, she said, “Why is that you work so hard and we are still so poor? The rich have bigger houses and finer clothes and lead an easier life”

Jack thought over his wife’s words. And he continued to ponder it the next day as he ate lunch under the shade of a benevolent tree in the middle of his land. As he pondered, he fell into a deep reverie. As he lay asleep, a fairy came in his dream and asked, “Why are you unhappy, Jack?” Jack recounted his conversation with his wife to the fairy, upon which she asked, “Ask me a wish and it shall be granted”. Jack was overjoyed and wished that all the riches in the world would disappear so his wife would have no reason to envy opulent neighbors. The fairy said, “Your wish is granted”. Jack profusely thanked the fairy to which she said, “Why don’t you wait for one day and come back here to thank me?”

In the evening, when Jack went back home, he found his wife and children in tears. Their finest China plates had been reduced to ordinary earthenware and their fine Sunday attire lay in tatters and ruins. His wife sobbed, “What have we done to deserve this misfortune?”. Jack stayed silent, not wishing to reveal his part in the way things turned out. The next afternoon, when the fairy came to visit him, he said, “I have erred grievously. It is not by removing riches that I can make my wife happy. It is by having more that I can make her joyous. Can you change my wish so that workers like me get the highest of prices for our goods? Our coffers will then fill to the brim from the money we get from the rich”

The fairy nodded and granted his wish. When he attempted to thank her, she said, “Why don’t you come back in a month and thank me?”

That evening when Jack went home, he found his wife overjoyed. “This afternoon, I got twice as much money for our produce than yesterday. Look at all this money. If this continues, we will be able to build a house twice as big and have clothes twice as grand”. Jack smiled, but chose not to reveal his role as something troubled him about their new riches. A few days later, he observed that everyone in the village was overjoyed at getting enormously higher prices for what they sold. He felt happy but stayed silent. After a few weeks, the prices were so high that no one was able to buy anything anymore no matter how much money they had. His heart sank when he heard his friends mutter, “Who has cast this misfortune on us that our goods are so expensive that we cannot sell them anymore”

When the fairy came to visit him at the end of the month, Jack begged her to change his wish. “It is not by making the rich poor, or making more money that we can be happy. It is only through organization that we can ensure that every one is treated fairly. I wish for a great giant to appear and ensure that all goods are produced on time and sold at fair prices, so we do not have to worry about such things”  The fairy replied, “So be it. Come back and thank me in one year”

When Jack went home that evening, he heard the astounding news. “There has been a revolution. A giant has appeared in our midst, and he has opened something called a factory. He wants all of us to go to this factory every day and do what he says. And, in exchange, he will give us money and take care of us”. The next morning everyone on the street went to the factory and the giant gave them their instructions. “Do precisely what I tell you and nothing more. If you do as I say, you will have nothing to worry”

This situation carried on satisfactorily for a few months. Everyone in the village went back to their happy and contented states of well being. They did not worry about tomorrow. The giant took care of everything. All they did was to show up and follow instructions. After a few months, discontent began to seep in. The giant had grown bigger, and his head grew even larger than the rest of his body. As his head grew larger, it made the giant hungrier. So, the giant kept more and more of the money and food for himself and distributed the meager rest to the people. One day, the head of the town was heard to remark, “We do all the work. But, the giant is keeping everything for himself. This is not fair”. Soon, many in the village formed a group that they called the union, and the union went to the talk to the giant about his unfair ways. The giant laughed at and ridiculed them for being foolish. “I take care of everything so you don’t have to worry about tomorrow. Do not forget that”, he retorted. But, the people were not satisfied and continued to argue with and yell at the giant. Soon, the factory stopped producing what it used to and fell into a state of disrepair. The giant lay listless and hungry and the angry people now got even less than what they used to. Things came to a pass one day when Jack’s son, who had just turned eighteen, told him, “I curse the man who created this giant. He has caused us nothing but misery”. Jack was saddened to hear his son’s words.

When the fairy came to visit him at the end of the year, he told her, “It is not organization. It is authority that makes things works. I wish for a creature which can control this evil giant and make him distribute profits equally to all the people”. The fairy smiled and said, “I will grant your wish and let us meet again in ten years before you thank me”

That evening, a magical creature arose in the land. It had a thousand eyes and a hundred arms which looked like tentacles. It had no legs to stand on or a face to look at. It seized the giant, cast chains around its neck and legs and brought it under its control. The people rejoiced, for the tyranny of the giant had been ended. The magical creature called itself the “government”. The creature told the giant to keep working as it always did and, in exchange, it promised to keep feeding it so it wouldn’t have to worry about tomorrow. The giant had no choice but to play along. Years passed by, and the giant became lazy and grew so big that it couldn’t work as hard as it used to. Indeed, it lost all its desire to do anything. It didn’t matter because the magical creature kept feeding the giant no matter what it did.

Jack grew older and feebler. As he sat on his rocking chair in the porch, he wondered about what he had done. There was no more of happiness. There were giants and magical creatures and they didn’t care much for the people. The people had lost their trust in the way things worked. They complained loudly and bitterly about the magical creature, which had promised so much and had let them down. So Jack wondered where the solution lay.

Ten years passed, and the fairy came to visit Jack as he sat on his chair. And he said, “I think I have the solution. I wish for an army of pixies, goblins, gnomes, dwarves and elves which can slay the giant. I wish for the magical creature to lose its magical powers. It is not organization. It is not authority. We need to free the little creatures so they can fight the government and the giants”. “The fairy granted his wish and asked. “Do you wish to thank me now or would you like to wait a hundred years?”, she asked. Jack replied, “I will not be alive in a hundred years. I wish for you to meet my grandson and ask him what he thinks”. The fairy smiled and agreed.

A wondrous event happened in the town that night. An army of pixies, dwarves, elves, goblins and gnomes descended on the town. They carried little wands, swords, daggers and spears and other weapons. They rushed at the giant, and each took turns to maim and dismember him until just the body and the head was left and the giant lay barely alive. Finally, a handsome young warrior on a horse rushed in with a great big sword and slew the giant by cutting his head off. The villagers cheered at the downfall of the giant and his lazy and uncaring ways. The army of these little creatures did not stop with the giant. They ran around slaying whatever they could get their hands on, and eating whatever they could find. Indeed, these little creatures did not want to stay little. They wanted to grow up and become giants themselves. They fell upon each other and bloody warfare and mayhem was the order of the day. The villagers watched in fear and trepidation as they did not know what the days portended. The creatures were selfish, and all they cared about was feeding their bellies and fattening their calves. Such was the nature of these creatures. It became the responsibility of the people to nurse the wounded back to health or give them proper burials. Soon, the people grew tired of being undertakers and digging graves to bury the dead. One day, it was known that the handsome warrior on the horse and magical creature had joined hands secretly to slay all the other creatures. Carcasses piled up on the streets and their stink filled the entire town.

A hundred years passed by, and Jack and his son passed on. The house came to Jack’s grandson, who was a thinking man. Jack’s grandson was also named Jack. One day, Jack sat in his car wondering where things had gone wrong and how people’s lives had come to be filled with such misgiving and dread. And as he sat wondering, the fairy came to visit him. She told him about his grandfather Jack and the wishes she had granted.

“Would you like to make a wish, Jack?”, she asked.

Jack – the grandson – was surprised. But, he was a quick thinker. He replied, “My dear fairy, I’ve been thinking all these years about the things that have happened since good ol’ grandpa Jack’s days. I think that the old man had it all wrong”

The fairy was surprised. She stayed silent as Jack continued.

“It’s not about hard work. It’s not about being organized. It’s not about being fair. It’s not about any of these things. It’s not about wishing good things for others. It’s a dog eat dog world, and it’s every man for himself. It’s about being selfish to the core, and wishing good things only for yourself. I’d like you to turn me into a creature completely lacking in any skills or talent. A creature that is so devious and manipulating that he becomes fabulously wealthy as a result of his utter lack of concern for society at large”

The fairy was taken aback on hearing this. She wondered how she could make Jack’s wish come true. She racked her brain a thousand different ways. Finally, she waved her wand and transformed Jack into the creature that he’d asked to become.

That, boys and girls, is the story of how Suresh Kalmadi came to inhabit this planet.

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The What Ho! Guide to Handling Queues in India

The word “queue” traces its origins to the Latin “coda” or “cauda” for “tail”. It came to English via French (and Italian) and was first used to describe the “tail of a beast” and then extended to “a line of dancers”. The verb in its modern context of “to stand in a line” is recorded only from 1927, and was popularized by Winston Churchill, when he coined the term Queuetopia to describe Britain under Labor governments

In the relatively short time it’s been around, the word has gone from strength to strength and now even has a branch of mathematics named after it. Queueing theory (the study of queues) has applications in every aspect of life from retail stores through urban transportation planning to air traffic control, not to mention software, telephony, networking and manufacturing. At the heart of it, queuing theory is about modeling queuing behaviors and devising the speediest mechanisms to dispense services to different types of queues. While there are many and varied benefits that have accrued from this science, one of its great failings has been to sufficiently understand and predict queuing behaviors of Indians, a problem which is now considered by many to be the Holy Grail of research.

Lateral Thinking (and Movement)

The real reason why queuing theories have been unable to predict behaviors of Indian queues has to do with what is called non-linear or lateral thinking. Linear thinking is what most of us engage in, most of the time, and is defined as rational, logical and analytical thinking. In contrast, non-linear or lateral thinking is based on intuition and creativity. Another perspective is to look at linear thinking as related to cognitive intelligence, and lateral thinking as related to emotional intelligence.

Fun lateral thinking puzzle: A man fell out of a twenty storey building on to the ground, and survived. How?

When queuing theories built on logic collide with the abundance of emotive intelligence and lateral movements found in our Indian brethren, it leads to fascinating and exotic results. Interestingly, cultural and philosophical differences around concepts of time and space influence behavior in queues. An example: People in India, China and other Asian cultures tend to care about the number of people behind them in queue, while folks in the west care more about the number ahead of them. No wonder the queues in the West tend to be orderly and straight, while those in the east are more like chaotic bell curves in a jail breakout.

The What Ho! Guide to Handling Queues in India

There are 5 types of queue crashers in India. All you have to do is to keep an eye out for them and ensure they don’t succeed in their nefarious intentions.

5. The Wonder Woman

Two hundred or more years back, the British instituted a protocol of serving women first in queues, no matter when they arrived. Although the Indian society has become less chivalrous over the years, the wonder woman act still works in platform ticket counters and select movie theaters to this day. The beauty of this method is in its simplicity. It involves sending in a member of the gentler sex, who can use her elbows freely and not so gently to make her way to the top of queues.

4. The Gate Crasher

Gate Crashers tend to be stocky, moustached males, and amble in wearing spotless white dhotis and shirts, accompanied by entourages of similarly attired and countenanced individuals. Standard operating procedure is to talk loudly and rudely on a mobile phone, (thus creating an intimidating aura of ‘don’t even think about messing with me’), and casually sauntering up to the ticket booth and taking it over for extended periods of time while other queuer-uppers cower meekly in silence.

If your profile attributes don’t include stockiness, male gender, moustaches and color coordinated large entourages, bodily harm can ensue as a consequence of any attempt to execute this technique.

3. The Crash Cult Member

We suspect that a Queuing Freemason Cult (QFC) has quietly built up membership of gargantuan proportions in this country. Upon flashing of the QFC signal, a member already in the queue warmly greets a stranger (but a fellow cult brother) outside the queue, and skillfully inducts the aforementioned cult brother into the queue exactly at the time of being served. Not infrequently, clerks at counters are also QFC members, who weave in dispensation of services to fellow cult crashers in the guise of casual chit-chat, while an unsuspecting public dutifully awaits its turn.

Part of the Crash Cult Member genus is the ‘Socializer’, who, though not a cult member, has the uncanny knack of spotting fourth cousins, distant relatives or long lost friends in a queue within a few seconds, and immediately proceeds to deploy “the Artful Mingler” technique (see no. 2 below) to maximum effect.

2. The Artful Mingler

The Artful Mingler represents the pinnacle of not just lateral thinking, but also of agile, lateral movements. He sidles and sidles alongside in an imaginary queue, immune to perplexed glances and baleful stares. The modus operandi involves spraying of malodorants (yes, we just made this word up) on self beforehand, gradually escalating levels of physical contact, and resolute squeezing into the line as the queue heads to its climactic finale.

A less successful variant of the Artful Mingler is the “Seemingly Absent Minded Mingler”, who puts on a convincing act of absentmindedness to insert himself into the queue, and will neither cease nor desist until the severest of admonishments come his way. Often expresses genuine indignation and insincere remorse immediately prior to being ejected from queues.

1. The Human Nano Particle Dart

The Human Nano Particle Dart’s distinguishing traits are the ability to spot gaps of sub-atomic magnitudes in queues, and the equally astonishing capacity to insert self into such gaps at the speed of light. Insertion methods involve use of fingers, toes or nails to stake claim to a place in the queue. Human Nano Particle Darts have been observed to obtain best results during early stages of queue formation, when confusion and chaos reign supreme. They are considered by some to be fuzzy, quantum versions of the “Artful Minglers”, though they neither mingle nor are artful.

Have any fun queuing experiences? Pray, please share.

Answer to puzzle: He fell out of the ground floor.

The What Ho! Guide to Growing the Indian Economy

Growing the Indian economy at 10-12% year-on-year is not as hard as it is made out to be. All it requires is an understanding of the following factors that influence an economy in any part of the world, especially in India.

1. Belief in Hell. 

You have always believed that the ship of the country’s economy is one where the wheel is firmly in the hands of the Reserve Bank governor. RBI sets interest rates, controls liquidity, tracks the velocity of money, monitors inflation, yadda yadda.. so we have heard. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is now widely believed that the health of the economy is, in fact, controlled by a handful of corporate and political types who plunder the treasury in plain sight, dole out sickeningly nepotistic favors to kith and kin and have turned this country into their personal Disneyland. What will stop this inexhaustibly long list of inveterate criminals from their next round of plunder and pillage when they decide that more is better?

According to this study done at Harvard, a country’s belief in hell correlates with its economic development. Researchers analyzed forty years of data and came to the conclusion that the more the population believes in a flaming purgatory, the better are its chances of being less corrupt and becoming more economically advanced. It turns out that belief in eternal damnation is the only thing that stops us all from turning into monstrous jerks. It is interesting to note that belief in God does not cut the mustard. It’s belief in Lucifer that is critical to a nation’s prosperity. The threat of being run over by a herd of mad buffaloes or being boiled alive in a vat of horse urine postmortem is what keeps us on the straight and narrow.

2. The Sun

It is well known that sunny days lead to sunny dispositions. No one, ever in the history of mankind, leapt out on the streets on a cold, rainy day with a song on their lips. You don’t do that. Not unless you live in Transylvania and your name is Dracula.

Research again proves time and again that sunny days breed hope and optimism in human hearts. Exactly the kind of optimism and hope required to splurge ten grand on a dress. You know the one that will make you wonder for the rest of your life about that temporary moment of insanity in which the deed was done. Hope and optimism make people spend more. When they spend more, the economy hums contentedly like a bee in springtime.

3. The Moon

For the longest time, waxing and waning of the moon has been connected to many things from psychological disorders to homicidal violence to suicides. We can add one more feather to the lunar cycle cap. Turns out there is more to folklore than what meets the eye. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, “…in the 15 days surrounding full moon dates, stock market returns are about half what they are in the 15 days around a new moon”. In other words, stocks and werewolves are not made for each other.

4. The Day of the Week

Let’s face it. None of us look forward to the weekly restart of bedlam on Monday mornings. Mondays officially became the worst days of the week in the post Industrial Revolution era of organized work. And, you guessed right, it’s true for the stock market as well. Mondays are the worst days for Dalal Street, and Wednesdays are best. Fridays, as Navjyot Singh Sidhu would say, are like wives. Hard to tell which way they will go.

You heard it here, folks: Devil worship, 40 degrees Celsius, Amavasya and Wednesdays. The secrets to a 12 pct GDP growth.

And, you thought you knew it all. In a world filled with noise and confusion, there is only one source for clarity and precision in thought: What Ho!

The What Ho! Guide to Honking on Indian Roads

 Recently, someone suggested I write about the delightful practice of honking on Indian roads. After mulling this suggestion over for all of two seconds, I decided that I would go even further. Like Starship Enterprise. I would go where no man has ventured before and scientifically explain this riveting “Only in India” phenomenon, which has inexplicably been left unstudied by scientists of repute till date.

The Horn and The Human Body

In most countries, the horn is analogous to the appendix in the human body. A vestige of times past, the horn is largely unused except, of course, by New York cabbies, who must certainly have Indian DNA floating around somewhere in their systems. Honking is typically an unusual event in the West – much like the sounding of the siren during war. If you heard one, it usually meant that something really bad was going on, like the driver was about to hit something or had been cut off on the freeway.

In India, the horn occupies a status at par with the central nervous system. It confers important and critical evolutionary advantages. In the Indian traffic jungle occupied by bicycles, motor cycles, autos, cars, trucks and buses, the blessed horn is the primary means of signaling important messages such as “Dude, I’m here. I’d like to stay alive till my next bonus” to fellow ecosystem occupants.

How did the horn come to occupy such an important position in our society?

There is only one possible explanation. And, as always, we must start at the beginning with how something we are all familiar with – eyesight – works.  The human body is no more than a loosely held federation of bones and flesh, governed by the brain with inputs from a sensory system through a mass of nerves that run up and down from the brain. A notable aspect of the human sensory system is “visual perception”, the ability to interpret information on the surroundings from the effects of visible light reaching the eye. This perception is also known as eyesight, sight or vision. The lack of such perception is referred to as blindness. We’ve all heard the phrase “blind as a bat”. That’s because bats have poor visual perception. They rely on sonar to navigate their way around. To put it in a nutshell, bats have bad eyesight but great hearing.

Close observation of Indian drivers reveals an astounding ability among these species of Homo Sapiens to instantly switch to a “bat-like horn-sonar” based mechanism to detect objects in the vicinity when they get on the roads behind the wheels. Equally astonishing is the ability to filter out and ignore any inputs from the visual perception system.  The maha vakhyas of India road vedanta spell out the inviolable dharmas of driving that govern the lives of pedestrian and driver beings in this universe.

Honking on Indian Roads: The Mahavakhyas

The pedestrian mahavakhya goes “I don’t see you and will assume that the coast is clear until you honk”, rebutted by the honker dharma of “If I honk and receive no response, I have a right to assume that there is nothing unreasonable about continuing to zip along a 20ft wide street in a residential neighborhood

The Indian road dharma, in fact, is to honk everyone to safety, a practice reported in the Rig Veda and implemented around 300BC during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya when fast moving chariots were outfitted with men sounding trumpets as the jalopies trundled through city streets and state highways.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone, to us Indians of all, that fast moving vehicles, animals and pedestrians will blindly go about their merry ways unless honked at and warned of impending peril.

Proof in the Pudding

Here’s an example. A few weeks back, I was cruising along at 45 kmph on the Outer Ring Road in Bangalore, a luxurious speed by any standards. Further ahead, I espied a couple of gentlemen, who at first glance, appeared to be in two minds (or was it four?) as to – whether to cross the road or not. While they held their 1-on-1 in the middle of the road, debating the relative merits of “to cross or not to cross”, they casually watched my car hurtling itself in a straight line towards them. My right hand lay ready, poised to sound the horn, a-la Clint Eastwood ready to pull the trigger on a bunch of uglies at high noon. And my left hand wrapped itself around the hand brake lever. On that high noon, I was confident that they had spotted me, would take timely evasive action and the trigger would not need to be pulled. My nerves finally cracked and I succumbed to sounding the bugle. The result was an immediate disbandment of 1-on-1 and  a scattering of the individuals – each in a different direction.

These otherwise fine gentlemen had completely suspended their powers of visual perception, naturally assumed that all was kosher in the absence of honking, but acted expeditiously and randomly upon receipt of auditory signals. Quod Erat Demonstratum, which is Punjabi for “I told you so”. I have not rested my case. There’s more.

More Encounters of the Weird Kind

How else do you explain the Indian law that fines you Rs 250, if you drive with headlights *ON* during daylight? The same law does not treat driving *without* headlights on during night as an offence! Headlights at night apparently are optional, preferably turned on just prior to head on impact with oncoming vehicles, livestock or road barriers.

How else can you explain the invariable and random honking that spontaneously erupts when traffic slows to a crawl on congested roads, an occurrence that Bangalore denizens are more likely to have experienced firsthand than others? The only explanation can be impairment of visual perception, causing drivers to resort to horn SOS-es in the irrational hope that the simultaneous sounding of a thousand horns will cause traffic to evaporate instantaneously.

Epilogue

The factory installed horn on my Honda, after a swashbuckling innings at the crease, appears to be giving up its ghost and readying itself for horn heaven, where good horns go when they die. These days, it  bleats at painfully low decibel levels, causing severe consternation to my driver, who is having withdrawal symptoms not unlike a Wall Street broker deprived of his Blackberry. I mean, not even puppies on the street are giving us the time of the day.  Not to mention the fact that my driver comes from the school of thought that believes that the engine will switch itself off unless the horn is used every two minutes or so.

It’s probably about time we moved up the pecking order to one of these electric, polyphonic bad boys which can blast rhinos and elephants out of the way!