Friday, 30 December 2016

Christian India

by Girish Menon 

I studied in a Christian school
I speak and think in English
I have crossed the ocean
I eat animals and the holy cow
Am I a Hindu?

The government regulates my temples
'Free will' applies to the church
Ghar wapasi is frowned upon
Love crusade is the norm
How do I practise as a Hindu?

Christian India, Christian India
No Hindus left in Christian India

India’s constitution is secular
But look at the demographic change
The army of Jesus grows faster
With their offshore bureaucratic might
 How do I survive as a Hindu?

The Congress party hates us
So do the Communists,
Muslims and Dalits
The parliament loves Americans,
free marketers and evangelists
How do I survive as a Hindu?

Christian India, Christian India
No Hindus left in Christian India

Africans and Koreans have seen the light
Many Chinese believe in Jesus
The Nagas all used their 'free will'
to embrace the Holy Father’s gospel
The missionaries work in stealth
How do I survive as a Hindu?

Christian India, Christian India
No Hindus left in Christian India

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How To Begin Your Presentation

 Simon Sinek

End of the Line

By The Traveling Wilburys

"End Of The Line"
Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, doing the best you can
Well it's all right, as long as you lend a hand

You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)
Maybe a diamond ring

Well it's all right, even if they say you're wrong
Well it's all right, sometimes you gotta be strong
Well it's all right, As long as you got somewhere to lay
Well it's all right, everyday is Judgment Day

Maybe somewhere down the road aways (End of the Line)
You'll think of me, wonder where I am these days (End of the Line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (End of the Line)
Purple haze

Well it's all right, even when push comes to shove
Well it's all right, if you got someone to love
Well it's all right, everything'll work out fine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Don't have to be ashamed of the car I drive (End of the Line)
I'm just glad to be here, happy to be alive (End of the Line)
It don't matter if you're by my side (End of the Line)
I'm satisfied

Well it's all right, even if you're old and gray
Well it's all right, you still got something to say
Well it's all right, remember to live and let live
Well it's all right, the best you can do is forgive

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, even if the sun don't shine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Fans of Jet Airways, BJP, Congress and Dawood Ibrahim - Please look away now!

A Feast of Vultures - Josy Joseph

At Manthan 2016

Interview in Malayalam

Obama’s passing shot at Netanyahu is a futile gesture

Simon Tisdall in The Guardian

In a way, Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama deserve each other. Both promised great things. Both proved themselves masters of their respective political spheres. And yet both have contributed, since 2009, to a chronic deterioration in US-Israel relations and the wider Middle East meltdown. This process of polarisation and mutual alienation culminated last Friday with Obama’s active connivance in the passing of a landmark UN security council resolution. The resolution condemned all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law that imperilled a future two-state peace.

Amid talk of betrayal, the Israeli response, personally orchestrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, has been swift and furious. Ambassadors from the 14 countries that backed resolution 2334 were carpeted at the foreign ministry on Christmas Day. Israel has withdrawn its ambassadors from two of the countries concerned, New Zealand and Senegal, and cut aid assistance to the latter. Planned diplomatic exchanges have been cancelled, future Israeli cooperation with UN agencies placed under urgent review, and civilian coordination with the Palestinian Authority suspended. “We will do all it takes so Israel emerges unscathed from this shameful decision,” Netanyahu said.

If he really believes settlements undermine peace, why abstain? Why not go the whole hog and condemn them?

In a sense, these are symbolic actions in response to a symbolic vote. Resolution 2334 is unenforceable. Nobody, least of all the Americans, will attempt to evict the 430,000 Jewish settlers currently living in the West Bank or the 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Nobody can force Israel to embrace John Kerry’s recycled ideas about a two-state solution, although the US secretary of state is expected to spell them out one more time before he leaves office next month. Resolution 2334 joins UN resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) in the theoretical, consistently bypassed legal canon of the Israel-Palestine issue. It says what should happen. It does not say how.

Yet for all that, the US abstention and UN vote are not lacking in significance. Netanyahu’s smug suggestion that he need only wait for the advent of a Donald Trump presidency is misleading. It is likely Trump will give him a more sympathetic hearing. He may well move the US embassy to Jerusalem – a gratuitously inflammatory gesture.

The personal chemistry between Trump and Netanyahu will be vastly different; insecurity, aggression and paranoia are their shared characteristics. But Trump’s vain, vague boast that he could be the one to “solve” the Israel-Palestine conflict is as insubstantial as his many other foreign policy pledges. And a Trump administration cannot simply reverse the stated will of the UN security council – backed in this case by permanent members China, Russia, France and Britain – any more than it can unilaterally scrap last year’s multinational nuclear deal with Iran.

It is likely the resolution will accelerate existing moves to prosecute Israel at the international criminal court. By specifically instructing UN members to “distinguish between the territory of the state of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”, it may also encourage new boycotts and sanctions. But more than that, the UN vote has highlighted the extraordinary extent of Israel’s international isolation under Netanyahu. Even he cannot persuasively dismiss the unanimous opinion of countries as diverse as Japan, Ukraine, Malaysia, Venezuela, Angola and Spain. It takes a lot to make an enemy of New Zealand, but Netanyahu has managed it.

This was the world telling Netanyahu, with one voice, that the expanded settlement policy he has encouraged and justified is wrong – wrong legally, wrong morally, wrong politically, and wrong in terms of Israel’s future peace and security. The odd thing is, he knows this. In 2009, Netanyahu, newly re-elected, described his “vision” of a historic peace, “of two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighbourly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbour’s security and existence”. Although he appeared to renege during last year’s election campaign, Netanyahu still claims to support a two-state solution. Now the international community’s message is unequivocal: you were right in 2009. So stop undermining the prospect of peace. Honour your promise.

US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements

Obama has not been much help. He, too, made a big speech in 2009, shortly after taking office, pledging a “new beginning” for the Middle East. But Obama’s so-say inspirational Cairo performance turned out to be the prelude not to transformational progress, but to regional disintegration and growing American detachment. The US withdrawal from Iraq left a political vacuum in Baghdad that Iran and its Shia allies filled. Then, in partial reaction, came the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State. The Arab spring revolts of 2011 left Washington nonplussed. In Egypt it fretted over the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and welcomed his eventual replacement by another pro-American military dictator. In Syria, Obama prematurely anticipated the demise of Bashar al-Assad, only to back away when the going got tough, letting in the Russians and the Iranians (again) and squandering US leverage.

Obama never seemed to grasp the implausibility of publicly pressurising the risk-averse Netanyahu into peace talks with the Palestinians, even as Israel’s immediate neighbours fell prey to civil disorder and Islamist insurrection. As the US retreated, physically and diplomatically, Hezbollah (Iran’s and Hamas’s Lebanese ally), advanced. Little wonder, in this chaotic context, that the Obama-Kerry “comprehensive plan” for peace ran into the sand in 2014. Little wonder, perhaps, that Israelis now eye the Golan Heights, their disputed land border with Syria, with growing apprehension as Assad’s forces are advancing.

Add in Libya and Yemen, for example, and Obama’s Middle East legacy is not one to be proud of. Like Netanyahu, 2009 promise went unfulfilled. And it is fitting that his final days in office should be marked by petulance and impotence. Obama did not push nearly hard enough for peace when the regional climate might have allowed it. In 2011, he vetoed a similar UN resolution, arguing US-brokered talks would find a way forward. Obama, senior partner in a dysfunctional relationship, allowed Netanyahu to beard him repeatedly, not least in the latter’s self-justificatory 2015 address to Congress. Cautious to the end, even Obama’s UN demarche on Friday was half-hearted. If he really believes settlements are undermining peace, why abstain? Why not go the whole hog and vote to condemn them? And why wait seven years?

What happens next, in the dawning Trump era, is deeply worrying. A continuing, polarising stalemate over Palestinian statehood looks probable. So, too, do expanding settlements on occupied land and possibly annexations, as mooted by Netanyahu’s rightwing allies. How long before the Palestinian response grows violent once again? And how long before Netanyahu induces an impulsive, know-nothing Trump to take joint action against the bigger target, Iran?

What is Strategic Thinking

Ron Carucci in Harvard Business Review

It’s a common complaint among top executives: “I’m spending all my time managing trivial and tactical problems, and I don’t have time to get to the big-picture stuff.” And yet when I ask my executive clients, “If I cleared your calendar for an entire day to free you up to be ‘more strategic,’ what would you actually do?” most have no idea. I often get a shrug and a blank stare in response. Some people assume that thinking strategically is a function of thinking up “big thoughts” or reading scholarly research on business trends. Others assume that watching TED talks or lectures by futurists will help them think more strategically.

How can we implement strategic thinking if we’re not even sure what it looks like?

In our 10-year longitudinal study of over 2,700 newly appointed executives, 67% of them said they struggled with letting go of work from previous roles. More than half (58%) said they were expected to know details about work and projects they believed were beneath their level, and more than half also felt they were involved in decisions that those below them should be making. This suggests that the problem of too little strategic leadership may be as much a function of doing as of thinking.

Rich Horwath, CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, found in his research that 44% of managers spent most of their time firefighting in cultures that rewarded reactivity and discouraged thoughtfulness. Nearly all leaders (96%) claimed they lacked time for strategic thinking, again, because they were too busy putting out fires. Both issues appear to be symptoms masking a fundamental issue. In my experience helping executives succeed at the top of companies, the best content for great strategic thinking comes right from one’s own job.

Here are three practical ways I’ve helped executives shift their roles to assume the appropriate strategic focus required by their jobs.

Identify the strategic requirements of your job. One chief operating officer I worked with was appointed to her newly created role with the expressed purpose of integrating two supply chain organizations resulting from an acquisition. Having risen through the supply chain ranks, she spent most of her time reacting to operational missteps and customer complaints. Her adept problem-solving skill had trained the organization to look to her for quick decisions to resolve issues. I asked her, “What’s the most important thing your CEO and board want you to accomplish in this role?” She answered readily, “To take out duplicate costs from redundant work and to get the organization on one technology platform to manage our supply chain.” Her succinct clarity surprised even her, though she quickly realized how little she was engaged in activities that would reach that outcome. We broke the mandate into four focus areas for her organization, realigned her team to include leaders from both organizations, and ensured all meetings and decisions she was involved in directly connected to her mandate.

Unfortunately, for many executives, the connection between their role and the strategic contribution they should make is not so obvious. As quoted in Horwath’s study, Harvard Business School professor David Collis says, “It’s a dirty little secret: Most executives cannot articulate the objective, scope, and advantage of their business in a simple statement. If they can’t, neither can anyone else.” He also cites Roger Martin’s research, which found that 43% of managers cannot state their own strategy. Executives with less clarity must work harder to etch out the line of sight between their role and its impact on the organization’s direction. In some cases, shedding the collection of bad habits that have consumed how they embody their role will be their greatest challenge to embodying strategic thinking.

Uncover patterns to focus resource investments. Once a clear line of sight is drawn to a leader’s strategic contribution, resources must be aligned to focus on that contribution. For many new executives, the large pile of resources they now get to direct has far greater consequence than anything they’ve allocated before. Aligning budgets and bodies around a unified direction is much harder when there’s more of them, especially when reactionary decision making has become the norm. Too often, immediate crises cause executives to whiplash people and money.

This is a common symptom of missing insights. Without a sound fact and insight base on which to prioritize resources, squeaky wheels get all the grease. Great strategic executives know how to use data to generate new insights about how they and their industries make money. Examining patterns of performance over time — financial, operational, customer, and competitive data — will reveal critical foresight about future opportunities and risks.

For some, the word insight may conjure up notions of breakthrough ideas or “aha moments.” But studying basic patterns within available data gives simple insights that pinpoint what truly sets a company apart. In the case of the supply chain executive above, rather than a blanket cost reduction, she uncovered patterns within her data that identified and protected the most competitive work of her organization: getting products to customers on time and accurately. She isolated those activities from work that added little value or was redundant, which is where she focused her cost-cutting efforts. She was able to dramatically reduce costs while improving the customer’s experience.

Such focus helps leaders allocate money and people with confidence. They know they are working on the right things without reacting to impulsive ideas or distracting minutia.

Invite dissent to build others’ commitment. Strategic insight is as much a social capability as it is an intellectual one. No executive’s strategic brilliance will ever be acted upon alone. An executive needs those she leads to translate strategic insights into choices that drive results. For people to commit to carrying out an executive’s strategic thinking, they have to both understand and believe in it.

That’s far more difficult than it sounds. One study found that only 14% of people understood their company’s strategy and only 24% felt the strategy was linked to their individual accountabilities. Most executives mistakenly assume that repeated explanations through dense PowerPoint presentations are what increases understanding and ownership of strategy.

To the contrary, people’s depth of commitment increases when they, not their leader, are talking. One executive I work with habitually takes his strategic insights to his team and intentionally asks for dueling fact bases to both support and refute his thinking. As the debate unfolds, flawed assumptions are surfaced and replaced with shared understanding, ideas are refined, and ownership for success spreads.

Sound strategic thinking doesn’t have to remain an abstract mystery only a few are able to realize. Despite the common complaint, it’s not the result of making time for it. Executives must extract themselves from day-to-day problems and do the work that aligns their job with the company’s strategy. They need to be armed with insights that predict where best to focus resources. And they need to build a coalition of support by inviting those who must execute to disagree with and improve their strategic thinking. Taking these three practical steps will raise the altitude of executives to the appropriate strategic work of the future, freeing those they lead to direct the operational activities of today.

Monday, 26 December 2016

What is productivity and why is the UK's so poor?

Larry Elliot in The Guardian

The shortfall in productivity compared with other developed economies has long been Britain’s economic achilles heel. It is a problem that Conservative and Labour chancellors have been grappling with for decades.

Productivity is a guide to how good a country is at delivering the goods and services that are bought and sold. Technically, it is the rate of output per unit of input, measured per worker or by the number of hours worked. In layman’s terms, it is a measure of what goes in and what comes out.

In some sectors, productivity is easy to measure. A factory that makes 1,000 cars a day with 50 workers is twice as productive as a factory that requires 100 workers to do the same job. In other parts of the economy, assessing whether productivity has improved is harder and less objective.

At face value a fast-food joint that employed the same number of chefs to cook the same number of hamburgers as they did a year earlier would not be showing any increase in productivity. But if the quality of the hamburgers improved, that would be a productivity gain and statisticians would try to capture the improvement in the official figures.

There are a number of ways in which a firm can make itself more productive. It can invest in new machinery that makes the production process more efficient. It can employ more highly skilled staff. It can train workers so that they can fully exploit the equipment they are using.

It is through productivity improvements that living standards rise. For many years, the annual increase in productivity in the UK averaged around 2%, although there were periods when it was lower and periods when it was higher.

Each year since the early 1990s, the Office for National Statistics has published an international comparison of productivity. This showed that UK productivity was 9% lower than the average of the other six members of the G7 (the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) but this gap narrowed to 4% by the time of the 2007 financial crisis.

Since then, however, productivity in the UK has barely grown and the gap with the rest of the G7 has widened to 18%. The gap with Germany is 35% and with the US 30%.

There have been a number of explanations for the dramatic deterioration in productivity: the availability of unskilled cheap labour has deterred firms from investment; the poor quality of UK roads, railways and broadband network; the shrinkage of the financial sector, which had been a source of high-productivity jobs in the boom before the 2007 crisis; and the misallocation of capital to “zombie” firms kept alive by ultra-low interest rates rather than to dynamic new enterprises.

The government’s autumn statement document states that improving productivity is the “central long-term economic challenge” for the UK. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has identified better infrastructure, technology and skills as the foundations for doing so, which is why he unveiled a new £23bn national productivity investment fund and backed Sir Charlie Mayfield’s productivity council in his autumn statement. But this is a goal that requires long-term investment and commitment.

Jeremy's Anthem for 2017

by Girish Menon

I’m not afraid of  Brexit
I’m not worried about Trump
I’m not scared of boundary changes
Don’t care about opinion polls
I don’t bother with Tony
Nor his many cronies

Half a million volunteers
Are my army
Largest party in the EU
I won’t let you down

I believe in socialism
Universal basic income
World class NHS
Pure air, water and food
A safe place to live
For all who live here

Half a million volunteers
Will each bring thirty new voters
Largest party in the UK
I won’t let you down

I said don’t go to Iraq
I did not fudge my bills
I do not hate the wealthy
The media hate me
But the youth relate to me
And I am full of energy

Half a million members
Will spread the good word
A fair government in the UK
I won’t let you down.


Universal Basic Income explained

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Brexit Facts for your Christmas Dinner

Dan Roberts in The Guardian

Avoiding politics at the dinner table may prove harder than ever this Christmas for families on opposite sides of Britain’s intergenerational Brexit divide.

Voters over 65 were more than 50% more likely to vote to leave the European Union than those under 34, and polls suggest opinions have hardened since. Divorce lawyers have already warned that differing views on the subject are also an added source of stress in many marriages.

At Thanksgiving, when American families gathered for the first time after the equally divisive election of Donald Trump, the New York Times was so worried it published a list of “election facts to keep handy for holiday discussions”. In the interest of similarly avoiding a post-truth Christmas in the UK, here is a festive bluffer’s guide to latest twists and turns of the Brexit debate to keep by the crackers:

 Whose Idea was it again?

Six months on from the referendum we know a lot more about the demographics of the electorate. A recent study by NatCen Social Research found the people most likely to vote leave were those without formal educational qualifications (78%), those with a monthly income of less than £1,200 (66%) and those in social housing (68%). Voters against EU membership were also more likely to be white, male, and readers of the Sun or the Daily Express. Anyone brave enough to point this out over Christmas pudding should bear in mind that just 9% of leave voters said they were regular readers of the Guardian. Remainers were also heavily concentrated in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in a minority elsewhere.

Will it ever actually happen?

In private, one European finance minister puts the chances of the Brexit “experiment” being abandoned as high as 25%. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has proposed the radical solution of Scotland staying in the single market even if the rest of the UK leaves. In London, it is hard to find anyone in any doubt that the UK government will at least have to give full Brexit a very good try before the next general election. There is always a risk that unforeseen events – another financial crisis or a wider EU unravelling, for example – can intervene, but the likelihood is they won’t. This is happening.

What about that legal challenge?

A supreme court judgment on the government’s right to start divorce proceedings by invoking article 50 without consulting parliament is due in the middle of January. The government is expected to lose, but the impact of the case has been undermined by growing signs that it could easily assemble enough MPs to pass the necessary legislation. An amendment to a Labour motion calling for more transparency in the process saw just 23 Labour MPs vote against their party whip in protest at the very idea of invoking article 50.

Weren’t we meant to be eating baked beans in candlelight by now?

The Guardian’s latest Brexit barometer confirms that many of the more dire economic projections of the impact of a leave vote have yet to come to pass. That does not mean they won’t, though. There are already worrying signs of anxietyabout Britain’s future trading arrangements that can be seen in the slumping value of sterling. EU negotiators are also threatening to extract a £50bn divorce settlement as the price of agreeing a post-membership deal which our ambassador has warned could take a decade. In the meantime, banks and carmakers are warning of an exodus if a transitional arrangement is not agreed to soften the “cliff edge”. Don’t throw out the candles just yet.

So, what’s the plan?

Ah. This is where lunch could get awkward. The truth is we don’t have one yet. Theresa May has said she will give a speech in January setting out the broad aims of Britain’s negotiating position. The Brexit minister, David Davis, has said he will publish a slightly fuller, but not very full, outline for parliament to debate in March. The prime minister also admitted to the Commons liaison committee on Tuesday that leaving the EU without any sort of agreement on the terms of divorce let alone future relations was one of several contingency plans that Whitehall was preparing for. There is now talk of soft Brexit, hard Brexit or “train-crash” Brexit, with the smart money increasingly on something between the last two.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

What To Do After You Graduate College

Gary Vaynerchuk

I’m scared. I’m scared because I know exactly what happens around this month every year. There are so many of you who have graduated (or will be graduating) and still have no idea what you want to do with your life. And you know what? That’s ok! Most people don’t. You shouldn’t be stressed about that. What I’m scared about is that you don’t realize that you are entering the greatest 5-year window of your life.
If you are 22 years old, regardless if you’re graduating from college or not, there are two things you should keep in mind. The first is to acknowledge that you are entering some of the greatest years of your life. The second is that this is the moment when you don’t go practical—don’t take the “safe” route. This is NOT the time to get the job Mom always wanted you to get. This is NOT the time to try to maximize as much money as you can make so you can save up to buy a sick ride. This IS the time, however, to realize that you have a five-year window (three for some, eight for others) for you to attack the life that you want to win.
Something else that scares me is the naïveté of what the world is like after graduation. I am by no means saying that “winning” is going to be easy. It’s not. What you’ve been doing for the last 16 years is easy. Classes and school are easy because they’re structured. The world? It’s hard. It changes every day.
The fact is that the world is going to be exactly the way it is going to be without regard to the way you thought it would be, think it should be, or whatever big plans you’ve already made for yourself. Your parents might have already told you it’ll be one way, but they don’t really know. They just want you to do what they think is best, which usually means avoiding big risks. But, what you need to recognize is that now is the time when you can afford to take those risks.
What I wrote above is going to contradict what I’m about to tell you now. Even though the real world is hard, the next five years of your life will be the opposite. These will be the best and easiest years of your life because it’s your chance to attack what you love and try out what you want to do. Why? Because you don’t have all the baggage.
Look, I understand you might have college loans. I respect that financial debt is a real hardship. You may have to live up to the expectations of your parents. That’s mentally hard—fake hard. You may have many other obligations, but this time is exactly when you can live with 4 roommates in a basement and eat fast food.
Most of you don’t have children yet. Most of you are not married and have not yet promised your life to someone else. So, this is the time before the world has sucked out all your hopes and dreams. You still have this window—the next five years to help you achieve your goals.
Time is the number one asset and now is when you have the most flexibility to use it.
I’m sure some people will leave comments about their loans or whatever other financial obligations they might have. Again, I respect that. But one way or the other, that loan is going to be there whether you build something for yourself or not in these five years. I truly believe that you can wake up on your 26th or 27th birthday, start being practical, and still pay off your loans and any other debts. While I’m sure those obligations might have compounded interest, leaving the opportunity of “going for it” in those five years (especially if you have entrepreneurial DNA) is a mistake and actually lacks practicality.
Yet, so many of you are so hungry for short term gains right after college. For example, you would rather take the job that maximizes your pay at $3,000 more a year, despite the fact that you would have enjoyed a lower paying job more suited for you. For what? For a new iPhone? A slightly nicer apartment? You get to live life one time.
(By the way, you can work at night! This is when you put in your 18 hours a day to make the life that you want happen. That’s practicality.)
Promise me, all you youngsters who are reading this, that you understand that the land grab for happiness starts right now. You don’t have to worry about getting “that job.” What you should do is go and travel and learn. Go and start that business you always wanted. Travel with those three friends and start that band. This is the time to be massively risk oriented. There will be plenty of time to be risk averse later. Now is the time to understand what’s actually happening and map your behavior to something that will impact you for the next 80 years of your life.
When you are in your early 20s, this is when you can grind at your highest level because you don’t have the baggage that comes later in life. It’s harder for the 42 years olds to listen to this advice. At that point, you can’t just wake up tomorrow and say “let’s go” because little Sally has soccer practice and you have a million other things that are holding you down.
If you are lucky enough to be graduating today without any clue what about what you want to do with your future, no one’s ever been luckier than you. Please recognize that.

Friday, 23 December 2016

What's in a Taimur name?

by Girish Menon

I am an Indian Muslim
I have the right to religious freedom
I have the right of parental choice
It's within my freedom of expression
So why crib about my name choice?

I have named my son Taimur
Others chose similar warmongers
I have the right of parental choice
Ashoka, Alexander or Aurangzeb  
So why crib about my name choice?

Remember, you’re half a Tagore
A man Iqbal despised
Taimur's a hero two nation theorists love
Something your father despised
Hence we crib about your name choice!

Delhi, after Sack of Timur Lang

Basic Income

Yanis Varoufakis

World’s largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence

Olivia Solon in The Guardian

The world’s largest hedge fund is building a piece of software to automate the day-to-day management of the firm, including hiring, firing and other strategic decision-making.

Bridgewater Associates has a team of software engineers working on the project at the request of billionaire founder Ray Dalio, who wants to ensure the company can run according to his vision even when he’s not there, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The role of many remaining humans at the firm wouldn’t be to make individual choices but to design the criteria by which the system makes decisions, intervening when something isn’t working,” wrote the Journal, which spoke to five former and current employees.

Ray Dalio, president and founder of Bridgewater Associates. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The firm, which manages $160bn, created the team of programmers specializing in analytics and artificial intelligence, dubbed the Systematized Intelligence Lab, in early 2015. The unit is headed up by David Ferrucci, who previously led IBM’s development of Watson, the supercomputer that beat humans at Jeopardy! in 2011.

The company is already highly data-driven, with meetings recorded and staff asked to grade each other throughout the day using a ratings system called “dots”. The Systematized Intelligence Lab has built a tool that incorporates these ratings into “Baseball Cards” that show employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Another app, dubbed The Contract, gets staff to set goals they want to achieve and then tracks how effectively they follow through.

These tools are early applications of PriOS, the over-arching management software that Dalio wants to make three-quarters of all management decisions within five years. The kinds of decisions PriOS could make include finding the right staff for particular job openings and ranking opposing perspectives from multiple team members when there’s a disagreement about how to proceed.

The machine will make the decisions, according to a set of principles laid out by Dalio about the company vision.

“It’s ambitious, but it’s not unreasonable,” said Devin Fidler, research director at the Institute For The Future, who has built a prototype management system called iCEO. “A lot of management is basically information work, the sort of thing that software can get very good at.”

Automated decision-making is appealing to businesses as it can save time and eliminate human emotional volatility.

“People have a bad day and it then colors their perception of the world and they make different decisions. In a hedge fund that’s a big deal,” he added.

Will people happily accept orders from a robotic manager? Fidler isn’t so sure. “People tend not to accept a message delivered by a machine,” he said, pointing to the need for a human interface.

“In companies that are really good at data analytics very often the decision is made by a statistical algorithm but the decision is conveyed by somebody who can put it in an emotional context,” he explained.

Futurist Zoltan Istvan, founder of the Transhumanist party, disagrees. “People will follow the will and statistical might of machines,” he said, pointing out that people already outsource way-finding to GPS or the flying of planes to autopilot.

However, the period in which people will need to interact with a robot manager will be brief.

“Soon there just won’t be any reason to keep us around,” Istvan said. “Sure, humans can fix problems, but machines in a few years time will be able to fix those problems even better.

“Bankers will become dinosaurs.”

It’s not just the banking sector that will be affected. According to a report by Accenture, artificial intelligence will free people from the drudgery of administrative tasks in many industries. The company surveyed 1,770 managers across 14 countries to find out how artificial intelligence would impact their jobs.

'This is awful': robot can keep children occupied for hours without supervision

“AI will ultimately prove to be cheaper, more efficient, and potentially more impartial in its actions than human beings,” said the authors writing up the results of the survey in Harvard Business Review.

However, they didn’t think there was too much cause for concern. “It just means that their jobs will change to focus on things only humans can do.”

The authors say that machines would be better at administrative tasks like writing earnings reports and tracking schedules and resources while humans would be better at developing messages to inspire the workforce and drafting strategy.

Fidler disagrees. “There’s no reason to believe that a lot of what we think of as strategic work or even creative work can’t be substantially overtaken by software.”

However, he said, that software will need some direction. “It needs human decision making to set objectives.”
Bridgewater Associates did not respond to a request for comment.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Learn Anything In Four Steps - The Feynman Technique

1Pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it. Write down everything you know about the topic on a notebook page, and add to that page every time you learn something new about it.
2. Pretend to teach your topic to a classroomMake sure you're able to explain the topic in simple terms.
3. Go back to the books when you get stuckThe gaps in your knowledge should be obvious. Revisit problem areas until you can explain the topic fully.
4. Simplify and use analogies. Repeat the process while simplifying your language and connecting facts with analogies to help strengthen your understanding.

Corruption and the Tata empire

Geeta Anand in The New York Times

In India, where corruption is a fact of life, the Tata Group — a powerhouse conglomerate that makes Land Rovers, operates the historic Pierre Hotel in New York and sells the world Tetley tea — has been held up as the exception to the rule.

Its patriarch, Ratan Tata, 78, is a revered figure here, a cross between Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates whom even schoolchildren know and look up to as Mr. Clean — the billionaire whose family built its name in part on zero tolerance for corruption.

His company symbolizes the role an ascendant India sees for itself on the global stage. In 2010 Mr. Tata arranged a $50 million donation to the Harvard Business School, the school’s largest gift from an international donor, and its dean sits on the board of the empire’s umbrella organization, Tata Sons. Mr. Tata has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Now, however, Mr. Tata is caught up in a nasty public fight for control of the business — with the man he had chosen to succeed him as chairman. The company finds itself defending against serious allegations of wrongdoing.

Some of the claims have been raised by his chosen successor, Cyrus Mistry. Mr. Tata ousted Mr. Mistry in late October, saying it was necessary because “the board of Tata Sons lost confidence in him and in his ability to lead the Tata Group in the future.”

Mr. Mistry, 48, told Tata’s board in a letter that an internal audit indicated that its airline joint venture, AirAsia, had made more than $3 million in “fraudulent transactions” with two companies. In recent days, India’s Directorate of Enforcement has started an investigation into the AirAsia payments. The directorate did not respond to requests for comment.

“Never before has the Tata Group, including the philanthropic objectives of the Tata Trusts, been in jeopardy to this extent and scale,” Mr. Mistry said in a public statement this month. He said he was fighting “to protect the Tata Group from capricious decision-making by the interim chairman,” a reference to Mr. Tata.

Separately, on Friday, a crusading member of India’s Parliament, Subramanian Swamy, called in a court complaint for an investigation into allegations from a government report that Mr. Tata in 2008 used a front company to apply for a telecommunications license, potentially circumventing the limits on the number of licenses one investor could hold. This is alleged to have happened at a time of furious maneuvering among companies trying to win the rights to offer cellphone service in India — a battle that resulted in one of India’s biggest corruption scandals ever.

Ultimately the scandal helped sweep India’s founding political party, the Congress party, from power in an epic defeat.

The New York Times has reviewed government documents showing that India’s Serious Fraud Investigation Office recommended prosecuting Mr. Tata in 2013. For reasons that are not clear, the government did not file a case in court.

Ratan Tata, the patriarch of the Tata Group, in Mumbai in 2009. The conglomerate’s many elements include a leading manufacturer of trucks. CreditKunal Patil/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

The fraud office documents, which Mr. Swamy filed as part of his court complaint, say that the Tata Group invested $250 million in eight subsidiaries of a real estate firm, Unitech — a sum roughly equivalent to the telecom license application fee. Unitech used that money to apply for a license on Tata’s behalf, the report from the government’s fraud office said.

A Tata spokesman said the company made “a bona fide real estate deal” with Unitech unrelated to telecom licenses, adding that “no evidence was found which could be attributed to any criminality.”

The Tata Group was started in 1868, when the British ruled the Indian subcontinent. The founder, Jamsetji Tata, was a descendant of Persian immigrants, known as Parsis, who form a tiny and vibrant community in Mumbai. He began with a trading business, and over the decades the company grew — building India’s first steel mill, its first hydroelectric power station, its first locally made trains and its first airline.

In 1903, Mr. Tata opened India’s first luxury hotel serving Indians, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which is today considered a national landmark. In 2008 the hotel was one of the targets of the dayslong Mumbai terrorist attack by Pakistani infiltrators that shocked India and the world.

The company today has its hand in almost every business imaginable, from consulting to automobiles. Ratan Tata, the cousin of his predecessor, took over the company in 1991 at the age of 53. He became the group’s fifth chairman. He widened the group’s international presence, acquiring Corus Group, the Anglo-Dutch steel company, in 2007 and the Jaguar and Land Rover brands in 2008.

Mr. Mistry — the first non-Tata family member to lead the nearly 150-year-old company — was elevated in 2012 after a two-year search. However, in India’s tight-knit Parsi community, the ties can be close. Mr. Mistry’s family, which owns a major construction business, was the biggest shareholder in Tata Sons, with 18 percent, and Mr. Mistry had been on the board since 2006. His sister is married to Mr. Tata’s half brother.

According to several people close to Mr. Mistry, the relationship between him and Mr. Tata soured in part because Mr. Mistry had begun reining in some favors that the company had previously extended to Mr. Tata’s personal friends.

In one instance, after Mr. Mistry raised the issue, the Tata board explored starting legal proceedings against C. Sivasankaran, a longtime friend and close business associate of Mr. Tata’s, to try to recover $100 million the company said it was owed from a telecom deal. Mr. Sivasankaran also had been renting a 5,300-square-foot penthouse for $11,000, less than half the market rent, from the company, according to correspondence reviewed by The Times. Mr. Mistry raised his rent to the market rate.

Mr. Sivasankaran, in an interview, said he was indeed a friend of Mr. Tata’s. He said, though, that he had suffered financially from the investment and had no intention of paying back the $100 million he owed.

“I don’t want to pay it because Tata has not managed the company properly,” he said. “Siva is alleging the Tata Group does not have management skills,” Mr. Sivasankaran said, referring to himself in the third person.

He also confirmed that he was ousted from the luxury apartment. Mr. Sivasankaran said he had a long-term contract to stay there, so he could have fought to stay, but decided to go quietly.

Another issue at Tata involved no-bid dredging, shipping and barge contracts granted to companies belonging to another of Mr. Tata’s longtime friends, Mehli Mistry, according to three people who have reviewed company documents. (He and Cyrus Mistry, the ousted Tata executive, are cousins.) Cyrus Mistry allowed the contracts to be put up for bid once they expired, according to the people who have reviewed the documents.Continue reading the main story


Outside a Tata Motors plant in Pune, India. CreditAtul Loke for The New York Times

A Tata Group spokesman referred questions to Tata Power, the unit that made the contracts. Tata Power did not respond to requests for comment.

Mehli Mistry, through a lawyer, said that the contracts were not the result of his friendship with Mr. Tata, and disputed that they were not fairly valued.
The Cellphone Allegations

From a corporate perspective, the most consequential allegations regarding Mr. Tata and the group are those contained in the 33-page report from the Serious Fraud Investigation Office asserting that Mr. Tata’s group was the real applicant behind a telecom license secured by Unitech, the New Delhi real estate company.

A decade ago, India pried open its notoriously dysfunctional telecom market. In the days before deregulation, it could take a customer years just to get a new phone number. People would hang on to their phone lines like family jewels and hand them down to relatives.

Against that backdrop, investors saw a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build an Indian phone empire. But applicants could seek only one license. And the Tata Group had already applied for a different one.

The report says that Tata, “desperate to acquire the license,” used Unitech as its front in pursuit of a second license.

Unitech was one of the eight companies granted licenses in 2008. But the Supreme Court later ruled all the licenses illegal, in part because government investigations said that the licensing fee paid by the companies was substantially below market rates.

Fourteen people — including India’s former telecom minister and several Unitech officials — have been on trial in a special court on charges of cheating the government by underselling the licenses. A verdict is expected early next year. All have said they are not guilty.

Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, in 2014 submitted to the Supreme Court the government’s fraud investigation report charging that the Tata Group used Unitech as a front for its telecom application. He urged the court to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation to take up the case.

Mr. Bhushan also charges in the court petition that the Tata Group, in “glaring evidence of an apparent quid pro quo” for a telecom license, transferred property valued at tens of millions of dollars to the family at the helm of the political party of the telecommunications minister at the time.

Mr. Bhushan’s actions are still pending before the court.

A. Raja, the former telecom minister, declined to comment. A spokesman for his political party could not be reached.

The bureau of investigation did not respond to requests for comment. Vivek Priyadarshi, the bureau’s investigating officer in the case at that time, declined to discuss its conclusions.


Mr. Tata and, sitting behind him, his chosen successor, Cyrus Mistry, at an auto expo in New Delhi in 2012.CreditJasjeet Plaha/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images
India Opens Its Skies

In 2012, India allowed its cash-starved airlines to accept investments from foreign carriers, as long as an Indian partner retained control. Yet another Indian market — jet travel — suddenly looked sexier. Tata and others raced in.

Tata teamed up with AirAsia Berhad, a budget airline from Malaysia, and set up AirAsia India. This happened during Cyrus Mistry’s tenure — but he has distanced himself from the deal. In a letter to the Tata board after his ouster, he said that he opposed the deal, but that Mr. Tata pressured him to proceed, and that Mr. Tata himself negotiated the terms with AirAsia.

“My pushback was hard but futile,” Mr. Mistry said in the letter, which The Times has reviewed.

The allegations of questionable payments to two companies came after whistle-blower complaints prompted AirAsia’s board to order a forensic audit. That audit, delivered by Deloitte India in September and reviewed by The Times, identified the payment of more than $3 million to two such companies. Neither company appears to have offices, the audit found.

Mr. Mistry had shared the audit summary with the Tata Sons board members before the October meeting when he was fired, a person close to Mr. Mistry said.

A spokesman for Tata referred questions to AirAsia, which did not respond.
Friends in Business

At the time of Mr. Mistry’s ouster, he was also confronting an issue with Mr. Tata’s friend, Mr. Sivasankaran, whose company owed the Tata Group more than $100 million.

Mr. Sivasankaran in 2006 had invested in a Tata telecom start-up that also received a big investment from NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese company. In 2014, DoCoMo exercised its right to sell back its shares to Tata. The money Mr. Sivasankaran refuses to pay back represents his portion of that buyback expense, according to correspondence between the two sides.

Mr. Sivasankaran, in an interview, said he had invested in the company purely out of friendship with Mr. Tata. He said neither he nor anyone else had influenced Mr. Tata’s decision to fire Mr. Mistry.

A spokesman for Tata said it was pursuing “all legal options” to recover the money.

Mr. Tata’s friend Mehli Mistry maintained a lengthy financial relationship with the Tata Group. Over the last two decades, his companies were granted contracts for dredging, barging and shipping by Tata Power, often renewing them without a bidding process.

But after Cyrus Mistry took over, Tata Power put Mehli Mistry’s contracts out to bid. Other companies won those contracts, according to two people familiar with the bidding process.

Mehli Mistry was so disappointed at losing the contracts that he sent a message this year to Cyrus Mistry through a family member, people close to the former executive said. A person familiar with the message said that Mehli Mistry told Cyrus Mistry to stop interfering in his contracts or he would take steps to defend himself.

People close to Cyrus Mistry say he thinks his ouster was, in part, Mehli Mistry’s retaliation. In his letter to the board, Cyrus Mistry wrote, “I had to ease out hangers-on.”

Mehli Mistry, his lawyer said, “emphatically denied” sending any message regarding contracts to Cyrus Mistry and played no role in his ouster.

How to fall back in love with your partner, psychologists reveal

Rachel Hosie in The Independent

The saying goes that you can’t help who you fall in love with, and sometimes you just fall out of it too.

But a new study has found that we can in fact control our hearts with our heads more than we thought - psychologists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Erasmus University Rotterdam found that it’s possible to wilfully increase or decrease how much you love someone.
It’s called ‘love regulation’.

The researchers studied 40 people, twenty of whom were in a long-term relationship, and the other half having recently come out of one - the average time since the break-up was three months.

Each participant was asked to bring in 30 pictures of their current or ex-partner. First, they were asked how infatuated with and attached to the person they felt and had their brainwaves measured - the researchers particularly looked at the Late Positive Potential (LPP) brainwave, which becomes stronger when we focus on something emotionally relevant.

The participants were then told to look at the pictures and think positive thoughts about their partner, their relationship and their future together, before their brain waves and feelings were measured again.

For a second time, the participants were asked to look at their photos but to think negative thoughts. Their feelings and brain waves were then assessed once again.

The study found that after thinking positive thoughts, people reported feeling much more attached to their partners and their LPP brainwaves were stronger.

In contrast, after focusing on negatives, the participants “down-regulated” their feelings, reporting less attachment and weaker LPP brainwaves.

But can we really control love? “Control implies suppressing it and being king or queen of it,” Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David told The Wall Street Journal.

So even if we can’t actually control love, we can shape it.

How to fall back in love:

Make small changes - whether that’s hugging your partner before leaving for work in the morning or greeting them warmly when you come back, it can make a difference.

Smile at them - smiling releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and they’ll likely smile back too.

Think positively - focus on the things you like about your partner, imagine happy times in the future and write them down.

Have sex - even if you don’t feel like it, it’s important and studies show that people are more attractive and attracted to their partners after sex.

Don’t sweat the small stuff - try not to resent your partner for failing to take the bins out or leaving pants on the floor, and remember they didn’t do it because they don’t love you.

Try new things together - it’s proven to help couples feel more attracted to each other.
Ask questions - just like you probably did when you first met, ask each other about your hopes and dreams again.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Theatre of Capitalism - The Annual General Meeting


Sidin Vadakut in Motherland

Indian films strive for closure. In fact the single most important driving force that powers the narrative in most Indian films is the satisfactory closure of gaping wounds, wounded pride, injustice or vendetta.

Our films may navigate increasingly complex and original ways of achieving this closure. But in the end most of them achieve this through some age-old final-reel tropes. The climactic clash between the forces of good – the outnumbered hero – and the forces of evil – the bad guy and his hordes – is a popular one. The union of cleaved lovers, often involving trains, is canon. Family movies usually feature a reunified, joyous household pardoning the most heinous relatives who, moments earlier, were plotting their wholesale slaughter.

Mani Ratnam’s 2007 feature film Guru, however, ends with the most unique setting for a closing scene of any Indian film: an Annual General Meeting of shareholders.

This might seem like a bizarre choice of scenario. AGMs are a statutory requirement for companies listed on stock exchanges. In most countries in the world listed companies are required to hold at least one meeting a year where shareholders get a chance to vote on important company measures and approve annual statements of accounts.

These meetings can often be very important, highly charged and widely reported in the media. But how can they ever be interesting enough to serve as the closing act of a Bollywood blockbuster?

AGMs can be fun. But not Amitabh Bachchan or Anil Kapoor fun. Surely?

In fact it is a mystery that more blockbuster films don’t use AGMs in their plot. For when it comes to sheer theatricality some Indian AGMs can be every bit a work of performance art as Shahrukh Khan’s latest.

In the summer of 2006 I joined one of India’s grand old manufacturing companies as a consultant. Established well before India became an independent country, the company continues to be one of the best-known names in consumer electricals. Though these days it makes most of its money from industrial products like transformers. It has its headquarters in a shiny skyscraper in one of Mumbai’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

But inside it remains a quaintly old-fashioned company.

At the time I was struggling to make ends meet as a novelist – essentially an income-free profession – and hastily agreed to work for them part-time as part of a new business development team. The team consisted of two people. A vice president who thought big. And the consultant who translated these ideas into spreadsheets. It was a poorly thought-out project from the outset and no one was particularly surprised when it was shut down ten months later.

But in the interim I got paid handsomely, and used the money to get married.

One morning in July 2006, just a few months after we started work on our ill-fated project, I noticed an army of unfamiliar faces trooping in and out of our offices in the head office tower.

This was most rare. The offices mostly housed departments that had nearly nothing to do with the outside world: accounts, legal, corporate HR, statutory and reporting, insider trading, etc. Nobody visited us, not even employees from other departments.

Yet suddenly here was an eccentric group of old men and middle-aged women all lining up to meet the company secretary. Some of them needed help getting in and out of the lifts.

But this was not a company where you went around asking questions. Everything and everybody functioned on a need to know basis. If you needed to know you would know.

The next morning everyone received a directive from human resources. All employees were expected to attend the company’s AGM taking place that morning in the auditorium of a nearby school. Attendance was compulsory. Shuttle buses would be provided.

Outside the venue there was a confusing crowd of people. Schoolchildren bobbed in and out of the crowd trying to grab freebies like baseball caps, and snacks. Irritated employees coagulated into groups and promptly began to bitch about the waste of time. A few business journalists waited for the meeting to start.

But the most voluble group was the same army that had invaded our office the day before. They thronged around a side door, presumably the stage entrance, and made a terrible racket. Some were clearly having arguments.

This was the first time I’d ever been to an AGM. I wasn’t prepared at all for the chaos taking place around me. It seemed ridiculous even by the company’s ancient, peon-employing, stationary-rationing, pay-grade-based-Diwali-gift-giving ways.

Shortly before the designated start-time a series of expensive cars rolled up to the stage entrance. And the top management climbed out. “Dad’s Army” pounced. There was a huge racket as they thronged around the approaching board of directors trying to shake hands and have a quick word. It was not all that different from the way professional wrestlers walk toward the ring through a forest of outstretched hands, distributing high-fives.

What was more remarkable was that the President and the CEO seemed to know several of these rabble-rousers by name.

“Hello, Mr Tripathi? Long time!”

“Mrs Maheshwari, how have you been?”

“We meet again Koshi saab!”

I followed the rest of the employees into the auditorium, still puzzled by all this.

Inside the auditorium two very old men, both well above 60, were tearing into each other. They briefly went silent as the board of directors took the stage, and then resumed immediately.

They argued like schoolchildren. Vigorously, but insubstantially.

“You keep quiet sir! What do you know?”

“I know more than you. You please don’t irritate me today.”

“This is a free country! I will irritate you again and again. What will you do?!”

The men sat right in the middle of the front row. The army all walked in and occupied the seats around them. Not one person tried to stop their bickering. On the stage the board of directors waited for the men to calm down. They didn’t.

Finally the president of the board of directors, let us call him Mr Kumar, walked up to the very edge of the stage, and tried to mediate for peace.

“Mr Joshi I am personally asking you to please calm down.”

“Kumar saab, this man has been continuously irritating me since I came for this meeting…”

The really funny thing was that I was the only person in the entire hall cringing. Nobody else seemed to even care. The employees were fidgety and kept looking at their watches. Most of the journalists fiddled with their mobile phones.

“Who are these irritating people?” I whispered to a colleague. He chuckled into his palm and replied: “Shareholders.”

After a few minutes the old men declared a truce. Everyone settled down. The company secretary walked up to the microphone.

And then the meeting proceeded to descend into complete farce.

Deepak Shenoy, a well-known markets analyst and columnist, says that the father of the old-fashioned annual general meeting in India was Dhirubhai Ambani. Ambani was the first person to convert what was just a statutory requirement for listed companies, into an annual carnival for shareholders.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Ambani elevated Reliance Industries’ AGMs into works of art. A unique form of capitalist theatre in a country that resisted all forms of free market exuberance.

First of all the events were often held in stadiums. Over 50 000 investors bought Reliance’s shares during its initial public offering, India’s first popular listing. Many of them turned up for AGMs. Shenoy says that meetings were held like family functions, inaugurated with ceremonial lamps being lit and prayer sessions. Proxy forms, that allowed shareholders to appoint substitutes to represent them, were in high demand and often sold for large sums of money.

This was not just because they got a chance to see Ambani, perhaps the most famous businessman in India at the time. The forms also had monetary value. Attendees got free gifts including discount coupons from Vimal, Reliance’s textiles retailing arm. All a member of the public had to show to attend these events was a proxy form or proof of ownership of a single share. “A shareholder’s proxy form to attend a Reliance AGM had a sizeable cash value,” says Shenoy, “and for many years there was a booming market for them.”

“Ambani basically created what is known as the equity cult in India,” says Govindraj Ethiraj, veteran business journalist and broadcaster. Before Ambani took Reliance public, Ethiraj explains, the idea of owning equity in
 a company was not very popular. The
 number of retail shareholders were
rare and mostly limited to the small, 
informed groups in the larger cities.

“Ambani changed all that,” recalls Ethiraj. Ambani gave the impression that he was sharing his immense wealth with the public. Thousands upon thousands of people, many of them Gujaratis, bought Reliance stock. And then they began to invest in other companies as well.

By the early 1990s, Ethiraj estimates, this equity cult had exploded to some 20 million people. Ambani was the catalyst for that explosion.

Ambani was a shrewd businessman. He was also a showman. Years before Steve Jobs perfected the art of the keynote, Ambani used his AGMs to enthral the shareholders and the press. But it was not that Ambani was a natural communicator. Ethiraj, in fact, remembers him being less than eloquent. He wasn’t particularly fluent in English. And often spoke in a mishmash of English and Hindi with smatterings of Gujarati. But he knew how to connect with his audience. Perhaps, Ethiraj says, because his delivery seemed so home grown.

There are very few online videos of Dhirubhai Ambani speaking. The rare clip of his talking to investors bristles with energy. As he speaks, Ambani thrusts his hands into the air in front of him. Suddenly he whips his spectacles off. And when he breaks into laughter he does so sincerely, deeply, with a full mouth of teeth.

Ambani made it a point to announce one new initiative at every AGM, a move, says Shenoy, that electrified shareholders in the audience. It is a strategy that Dhirubhai Ambani’s son Mukesh Ambani continues to use to this day. Though Mukesh has inherited little of his father’s aura.

Ambani senior’s theatricality slowly began to spread to other firms. While few others could fill stadiums, they did incentivise shareholders with freebies and coupons. Many meetings began to deal less and less with business and more and more with drama and reward.

It may seem like a waste of time for both parties. But Shenoy says there is a certain logic here. Many of these people who attend AGMs have owned shares for many years. But they seldom own enough to make any serious money. And because they are so small they have no say in the way the company operates. The AGM, he says, is their one chance in the whole year to mooch something off the company.

Back in the school auditorium nobody paid much attention as an assortment of executives read out passages from the annual report. A few business journalists took down notes.

And then at some point the company secretary invited questions from the audience.

There was a mad scramble to raise hands and reach for the mics that were circulating in the first few rows. These were the “mooch seats”. The army of shareholders, most of them pensioners and old housewives who came for the freebies – caps, stationary, discount vouchers – and their moments of glory.

The first question was not a question at all. But verse. A woman read out Urdu couplets that compared the President’s handsome face to the sun, the moon and the stars. There was a smattering of applause. And then another man got up: “Sir, I would also like to share some poetry…” His words were drowned in some hearty geriatric booing.

He got very upset: “Sir! Look sir. They do this every time. When Ms Maheshwari wants to recite poetry nobody complains. But when I want to recite…”


Once again the President intervened. “How can I not listen to your poetry,” he consoled the poet. “You have been coming to our meetings for so many years. You are like family to me. I request the others to let him speak.”

So they did.

Next another woman got up. “Why has the company stopped the practice of taking shareholders on tours of company premises? Back in the day, when the President’s father used to be in charge, they used to conduct factory tours very frequently.”

The President had a quiver full of apologies. Did the woman have any particular plant in mind?

Of course. The factory in Goa. There was much applause. The company secretary was instructed to organise a trip as soon as possible. The mood in the mooch seats brightened considerably.

Finally there was the first question about business. Why did the company acquire a foreign plant instead of distributing the cash as dividend? This time one of the senior managers answered the question with dubious urgency and accuracy.

A colleague leaned over: “Planted question.”

And thus the next 15 minutes passed. Poetry interspersed with shameless praise of the board of directors sandwiched between planted questions. Until one terribly grumpy looking man stood up and asked why the AGM was scheduled the same day as HDFC Bank’s AGM.

“I am a shareholder in both companies. How can I attend both? You must understand…”

This finally managed to upset the President. “Conflicts are inevitable,” he said. “And if there is an overlap shareholders must pick whichever one they like.” The grumpy old man stood up, picked up a weathered old leather bag and left the auditorium.

The meeting concluded and we broke for snack boxes and tea in plastic cups.

The whole meeting was a bizarre, pointless exhibition of spoken word, poetry reading, conflict resolution, theatre and mooching.

Later some co-workers told me why so many people turned up at our office the day before: amateur blackmail. Many offered not to ask inconvenient questions, or ask convenient ones, in exchange for some petty cash or freebies.

It was a complete violation of the purpose of AGMs. But like Shenoy said, small investors rarely get another chance to capitalise on their loyalty.

Mani Ratnam’s Guru is a thinly veiled biography of Dhirubhai Ambani. Like Ambani, Ratnam’s hero, Gurukant Desai, also starts from poverty and manipulates, grafts, and in many cases intimidates his way into running one of the biggest companies in the country. The AGM is such an integral part of the Ambani legend, that Ratnam features it prominently in his movie. Choosing, even, to finish the film with a shot of a stadium full of shareholders.

Today, says Deepak Shenoy, the Ambani-style AGM is slowly petering out. A small group of front-benchers continue to wreak havoc during AGM season all over Mumbai but in most cases AGMs no longer matter. Institutional investors just pick up the phone and call up top management. Analysts get special sessions to discuss numbers. And media appearances and interviews are organised by PR companies.

“If you include TV channels, newspaper and websites there are some 31 or 32 media brands today handling business news in India,” says Govindraj Ethiraj. “This is probably one of the highest in the world.”

Saturated with so much information, many shareholders already know everything they need to.

For connoisseurs of Indian theatre, AGMs still offer good value. One share each in a handful of companies seems like a sound investment. In return you are guaranteed exclusive annual access to an artform in its twilight years. And snack boxes.