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Archive for March, 2013

I believe that the Romance Quotient of train journeys is much higher than that of air travel. I dislike the adrenalin rush of Toy trainchecking-in at airports, getting frisked all over and then sitting cooped up sardines-like in a wobbly metal container which has very few merits otherwise. Cutting short the travel time is surely a good advantage of air travel. Another is the ambience and the service one can possibly enjoy while traveling by air. But, given a choice, I would prefer a train journey any day!

The Travails of Air Travel

Not for me the endless hours spent on packing and repacking my stuff to ensure that the baggage is within the stiff weight limits prescribed by airlines. Liquid delicacies like home-made syrups and pickles are best left out. A meticulous planning needs to be done for what can or cannot go into hand baggage. Once, a minor quantity of liquid milk being carried for a small baby caused so much trouble that we almost ended up missing our flight! The whole drill of taking off my shoes, removing my belt and letting go of my laptop and cell phone in a separate tray leaves me rather nervous and exasperated.Italy

The duration of an air journey is good only for fleeting eye contact and for brief encounters with the finer and gentler of the species. I get looked at with fake and synthetic smiles by petite air-hostesses who are possibly planning their next activities after the flight gets over. The only time they appear to be smiling genuinely is perhaps at the end of the flight when I am leaving the plane. On the contrary, while leaving a train, I find great resistance from various quarters on terminating my journey – the passengers who are forcing their way into the compartment I am trying to leave, the porter who  shows up after much reluctance, and the ticket collector who thinks I have been traveling WT!

While flying, most commercial airlines maintain the cabin pressure for altitudes between 7 and 8,000 ft. May be, that is why I feel somewhat disoriented and confused at times while on a flight. Movies on board, a quick succession of saliva-inducing food items and beverages are all designed to keep my anxiety levels down as we cruise along at heights of around 35,000 ft.

Romancing the TrainsGlacier Exp

Consider the superior advantages of travelling by train. I am not referring to trains in the western world, where I could set my watch based on their arrival time, and the toilets and stations are spotlessly clean. Even if I were to consider trains in India, the experience turns out to be better than that of air travel.

To learn the basic tenets of karma yoga, all I need to do is to travel in an unreserved compartment of Indian Railways; the daunting task of going through the first few chapters of Bhagavad Gita can be easily avoided. Entry into the bogie is like life itself – full of struggle, adventure, victory and failure – requiring all the mental as well as physical agility at my command. I learn to overcome stiff resistance from those who are already inside and have managed to acquire a comfortable spot for themselves and their kith and kin. The struggle for survival brings out the worst in me. In the process, I believe, I get internally purified, getting rid of all my mental toxins!

Once I have jostled my way in, the next phase of seeking a comfortable perch begins. With toilets also jam-packed and inaccessible, I learn the value of patience and forbearance. By the next station, I have myself acquired the rights to start denying entry to those attempting to enter the compartment at all subsequent stations!Flamsbana

If I happen to travel in a sleeper class, I find it a very ‘homely’ experience – invariably, all passengers tend to treat the compartment as a second home! There is much sharing of news, views, family history and current troubles facing the passengers in my cubicle. Mention suffering from any disease and I am sure to be heaped with unsolicited advice on the efficacy of a wide variety of treatments. As I surmise over the troubles of my co-passengers, I am left convinced that my own problems are not that very serious. Now, what could be a better way of uplifting my sagging spirits?!

By the time the journey comes to an end, I have created tenuous bonds of transient relationships. If luck favors me, I could have even managed to charm the pretty young thing on the opposite seat by advising her on the possibilities of the next train connection and by offering to her some delectable food items bought at various stations on the way!

While traveling by air, I miss the windows. This deprives me of the simple pleasure of waving my hands, bidding a good-bye to those who have come to see me off. This is a privilege denied to those traveling by air. Also, in the absence of windows, I cannot haggle for the fruits and eatables I wish to purchase from a vendor on a station while enjoying the comfort of sitting glued to my seat.

In an AC compartment, I find great possibilities of networking. Newspapers and magazines get shared with quiet dignity. Mobile chargers can be readily borrowed. Movies can be readily shared on another passenger’s laptop. If my body language discourages a dialogue, there are good chances of me being left in peace. And what a pleasure it is to curl up with my favorite book and then enjoying a siesta after a hearty meal!

The seating in trains is invariably designed to promote brotherhood and human interaction. In an aircraft, we are seated theatre-like, with very little chance of either socializing or networking, except for the chance of hobnobbing with the passenger in the next seat.

As compared to the continuous drone of aircraft engines audible while travelling by air, trains have a unique melody and rhythm of their own. Like a lullaby, it tends to put me to sleep quite effectively.

I confess that my reasons for liking train travel are also economic; despite tall claims made by airlines of offering affordable air travel, trains are still much cheaper!

Indian Railways – Big Organization, Bigger Challenges

I really admire Indian Railways. They somehow manage to maintain 7,500 stations, 1,15,000 km of tracks and around 14 lac employees. They also cope with the daunting and mammoth task of handling 2.5 crore passengers and 28 lac MT of freight every day. This is despite the fact that 20% of their rolling stock has outlived its life, the tracks are not in the best of health and the demands of various regions are always piling up.

I believe they face serious issues in coach and track maintenance. Quite a few bridges are getting aged and slowing down trains. Outdated communication, safety and signaling equipment are not getting upgraded anytime soon. The penchant to keep announcing new trains every year continues unabated whereas safety measures invariably take a back seat.220px-Goldenchariot_train_luxury_service_in_india

Sanitation is a big concern. Indian Railways, the largest single employer of India, has helped perpetuate the caste oriented practice of manual scavenging for decades. The bulk of the blame for contributing towards the insanitary state of railway stations and tracks lies at their doorstep. Given the resources at its command, it should not be beyond IR’s capacity to equip trains with systems to handle fecal waste.

Improving the Romantic Quotient of Indian Railways

As an ordinary citizen of India, I would not push for bullet trains. I would rather have the railways invest in efficient waste management systems, better security measures, modern communication and signaling systems, mechanized track and station maintenance solutions.220px-Delhi_Duronto

Above all, if the stations and coaches start exuding a three-star ambience, IR would surely start persuading the passengers to treat its assets with better respect and affection, thereby improving the romantic allure of train journeys in India!

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OBJECTIVES, GOALS

To come up with a clear and simple goal is the key task of a manager. A dithering on this score is bound to lead to disasters, with precious resources getting wasted. The goals also need to be flexible, to always remain in tune with the business environment.

ORGANIZATION STRUCTURESOVERSTAYING ONE’S WELCOME

Are these helpful or simply a drag on the business? A formal chart is handy for the HR guys to decide ranks, packages and perks. Also, to external agencies, it explains how the organization works. In reality, a matrix organization, with a heady mix of formal as well as informal linkages between different units and/or departments, is far more effective in meeting business goals.

In any case, an organization chart cannot be allowed to become responsible for business paralysis and rigor mortis setting in.

OVERSTAYING ONE’S WELCOME

It is just not done. It shows one to be in a deep comfort zone, enjoying the perks of familiar personalities, processes and systems, but missing out on newer challenges and some spice in one’s career.

All ideas which sound revolutionary from a new incumbent fade exponentially over a period of time. The incumbent himself gets bored and a sense of fatalism sets in. A smart incumbent would call it quits before he reaches this state of vegetation.

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When one speaks of an Indian-Italian courtship these days, one’s imagination invariably veers around to the recent diplomatic row between the two countries on a matter involving the highest ‘court’ of India and the unfortunate death of two Indian fishermen at the hands of two marines of an Italian ‘ship’. But the ‘courtship’ between the two countries is much broader and deeper than this!

Italy and India are so similar, yet so different. One is a developed country; the other is striving to meet its Ajanta_Padmapanidevelopmental goals. One has a population of 62 million; the other is struggling to cope with its 1.2 billion! Italy is placed 10th in overall GDP terms globally, whereas India is placed at 3rd. In per capita terms though, Italy (USD 30,116) is 29th in the world, whereas India (USD 3,851) is placed 129th!

Yet, the two countries are very similar to each other! Both Italians and Indians tend to be warm-hearted, open and talkative. Both share a common disdain for their politicians and judiciary. Whether it is art and culture, variety of cuisine and language, history and geography, heritage and movies, both share several common characteristics. Both are famous for their movies, motor scooters, cars and gossip magazines.

The Italian Charms!

Indians have fallen for Italian charms since quite some time. During the 1970s, the preferred choice of a scooter in India was Vespa, an Italian brand. Espresso coffee soon followed and quickly became a household name. Pizza was the next to captivate the taste buds of Indians of all age groups. Gucci, Prada, Armani and Versace are already the favourite brands of the well-heeled. Several other major brands – like Alberta Ferreti, Fendi, Byblos and Scorpion Bay, to name only a few – have already firmed up plans to woo the Indian customer in the days to come.Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy

Each state in India has its own delectable cuisine. Likewise, all the 20 regions of Italy boast of their own cuisines. If India has its paranthas, chhole-kulche and dosas, Italy has pizzas, risotto, lasagne and pasta. In each category, both offer a mind-boggling variety to choose from.

Mamma Mia!

Both countries place a high emphasis on family values, especially the affection their own brand of tiger moms bestow on their respective precious cubs! Culturally, within a family, the male adult comes first, is served first at the table and is fussed over better. It is never in doubt as to who wears the pants in the family. Females in both countries play an important role in the kitchen and like to focus on displaying their culinary skills better.

Both Italians and Indians tend to be passionate and express their feelings loud and clear when upset! In both countries, weddings are increasingly based on love, as opposed to being ‘arranged’ in the past.

A Soulful Connection

For Indians who have perfected the art of living with filth and squalor all around them, visiting Italy is like a sophisticated and upgraded home-coming of sorts. Despite being a European country, Italy has a unique Indian touch which captivates and enamours the Indian soul quite effectively.IMGP9042

Taking a leisurely stroll near the Rome Termini Train Station, one is gently reminded of similar surroundings of the railway stations in India. Running into few homeless vagabonds sleeping in a corner is quite likely. The stench of stale urine emanating from a boundary wall makes one feel quite at home. However, one still misses the graphic art masterpieces in various hues of maroon so lovingly created by our paan-chewing brethren on all kinds of walls back home.

One will find laundry drying and ladies squatting and chatting away merrily on roads and streets. Driving on roads is the same, that is, on the left side. Also, there is no difference in driving habits; in India as well as in Italy, the values of Freedom, Fraternity and Democracy are upheld with remarkable zeal on the roads, holding all rules in sheer contempt!

How We Hate Our Courts and Politicians

There is a shared contempt of courts. Emblem_of_Italy.svg was sentenced to a year in prison but does not appear to be going to jail anytime soon. The Indian legislative bodies can justifiably claim to have a liberal sprinkling of criminals. If Italy has a strong presence of the mafia, India has its own share of the underworld dons.

People in both countries are perhaps tired of the ruling dispensation as well as the opposition camps of all hues. Recent elections in Italy have thrown up a hung parliament. India has been experimenting with the coalition model of governance for more than two decades now and can offer rich expertise to Italy on managing Emblem_of_India.svg‘coalition compulsions’!

The Begging Bowl Syndrome

Italy and India share the same level of income disparities amongst their populace. If one were to go by the UN Gini index, Italy was assessed at 32 in 2006, whereas India was assessed at 33.4 in 2005. (Nil disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘zero’; maximum disparity would mean the Gini index would be ‘100’). India has a middle class which keeps suffering in the space of public delivery of services in dignified silence.

It comes as no surprise that begging is an invariable part of life and is an art practised in both the countries. However, it is far more sophisticated in Italy. Boarding a train, one could find a pretty young lady claiming to be deserted by her boy-friend openly seeking money to raise her kids. On the streets of Florence, one could encounter statuesque artists dressed up in plaster-of-paris-like costumes, seeking alms.

History and GeographyVitruvianMan

Historically, India had been mostly ruled by the Mughals and the British. Italy had been under the influence of Austria, France and Germany. Both were cobbled together by several princely states, distinct kingdoms or regions coming together.

Geographically, both countries have similar profiles. Italy has the Alps on its Northern side, just like India has the Himalayas. Sea beaches are in abundance in both the countries. Italy shares its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. India does so with China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. In fact, Andaman and Nicobar share a maritime boundary with Thailand and Indonesia.Luciano_Pavarotti

Fine Arts and Science

Both Italy and India have had truly illustrious people in the realm of fine arts, literature, sculpture and science. If Italy can boast of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Enrico Fermi and Dante, India can talk of Aryabhatt, C V Raman, J C Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. If Italy has Pavarotti, India has Pandit Jasraj and M S Subbalakshmi. If Italy stakes claim to as many as 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites, India does it for 29.

Language, Religion and Regional InitiativesPandit_Jasraj

Italian language has several dialects. Indians cope with as many as 26 scheduled languages, many of which have several dialects.

More than 91% of Italians are Christians. India has Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians and Jains as major groups of a diverse religious landscape.

Italy is a founding member of NATO and EU. India had espoused the cause of Panchsheel and is a founding member of BRICS. Italy is home to the Vatican. India is home to diverse ethnic groups and religions. Both are held to be important regional powers.

Architectural and Artistic Elegance

India boasts of the Taj Mahal which took 16 years to build. Italy boasts of St. Peter’s Basilica which took 120 years to get compTajleted. India has the Qutab Minar; Italy has the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The difference surely lies in the attention paid towards maintenance of museums, heritage buildings and the exquisite paintings and sculptures Italy possesses. Visiting ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan, one would notice the exquisite care with which the humidity and temperature are controlled in the hall containing the famous fresco. The care with which Michelangelo’s original masterpiece of ‘David’ is maintained in a Florence museum is something to be learnt from.

In India, tourists keep defacing the Ajanta and Ellora murals as well as all historical monuments with utter disregard and impDavid_von_Michelangelounity, slowly destroying a very rich heritage that the country possesses.

Lessons in Governance

When it comes to governing the ungovernable, there is a lot that Italy can learn from India. The latter has unique expertise in managing a complex country which can justifiably boast of flourishing black markets, mobsters, super-slow courts, crooked politicians, warring business families, hosting mega religious gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, cities which think they are states, states which believe they are independent countries and regions which believe they are continents.

Coming back to the marines imbroglio, diplomacy has won the day. Both Italy and India have managed to avoid embarrassing each other in international forums.The_Last_Supper

One has no doubt that despite occasional friction which is the hallmark of a deeper engagement, the two countries will continue with their courtship for a long time to come!

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ashokbhatia

As the jetliner from Paris made its way to Puducherry, I turned nostalgic. When I had left it for greener pastures abroad, little had I June 2010 99imagined that it would take me close to twenty years to return to the town! I had left it as a semi-retired private sector honcho, and was now returning to my home base along with my wife Usha and grand-daughters Suman and Shalini. Looking out of the small window, I pointed out Matrimandir in the distance to Suman, who seemed pretty excited. The bluish-green waters of the Bay of Bengal below were shimmering in the setting sun, and a flock of pristine white seagulls was flapping along below us.

Once we landed, immigration and customs formalities got over pretty soon. The swank new international terminal looked like a smaller version of the Charles De Gaulle terminal in Paris. There were sign boards directing us to the…

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NETWORKING

It is great to be the part of a clique. But there is a flip side. The go-between you choose to introduce you to the big-wig might have his own axe to grind! Best is to call the big-wig cold, and keep in touch with your network to keep a tab on what is happening.

NAY-SAYERS

Try to be a ‘No-man’ and you will find that it is much more fun than being a ‘Yes-man’! It shows independence of thinking. It ensures that your boss notices you faster and values you better than your peers. Also, it may open up a new approach to solving the problem at hand.

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You have wiped our tears with your gentle hands,

The core values of togetherness, love and sharing we understand;

You have been the catalyst of change in our lives day by day,

Ultimately enabling all of us to become what we are today.

 

Your understanding and compassion has made us brave,

Exploring new frontiers and facing situations grave;

Your tireless guidance has made us take an adventurous flight,

 Always propelling us like a beam from darkness to light.

 

As children safe within the warmth of your embrace,

Through all the trials and tribulations that we face;

Protected from the cold careless world outside,

We know that under your wings we could still run and hide.

 

God has taken care and reached us through you,

Nurturing, grooming and guiding us as and when due;

You are the angels, who have fallen from the sky,

To fix our wings whenever we cannot fly.

 

May the radiance of your thoughts and values never fade or go away,

Forever illuminating our paths like the millions of stars in the Milky Way;

Continuing to regale us like a beautiful and soothing rainbow in the sky,

So our coming generations shall always strive to make the things okay.

 

The sun-eyed children have already broken the caste-n-creed gloom,

Like morning stars the new buds have begun to bloom;

They shall wrestle with destiny and make their own way,

Their forceful tread shall make Earth pleasant and gay.

 

Feet echoing in the corridors of Time, no chance to excel shall they miss,

They shall be full of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss;

Their lips shall chant new mantras to uplift the soul,

Aspiring for divinity, they shall realize a higher goal.

 

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