RKR – Father’s Day Special Blog

Rasa-kudi Raghuraman ( RKR) in Hindi , loosely translates to Rasam Peene Wala Raghuraman. In my family, RKR was as big as SRK or MSD or SRT or GST. Even before these acronyms became famous, there was a certain gentleman, who had earned the nickname RKR in the 90s for his Rasam drinking abilities.

RKR had earned this nickname because he could drink 2 or 3 glasses of rasam back to back after having eaten a bowl full of rasam rice. He could easily devour a vessel full of rasam single-handedly. For him, drinking a full container of rasam was as easy as Federer winning Wimbledon on grass. The title RKR was bestowed on him after many such conquests and no one in our family has ever close to taking away the record from this gentleman.

And he was doing this routine, day in, day out just like how Sachin would go out to the nets daily. Harsha Bhogle has spoken a lot about talent, born vs acquired and the relentless hours of practice, which differentiates the champions from the ordinary. If Harsha were part of our family and he would see RKR drinking rasam, he would write an essay on talent, consistency and practice looking at this.  RKR, the phenom, has been doing this since childhood, continues to do this daily and he cares a damn about what others think about this quality of his.

RKR is an amazing athlete as well. I did not know of this hidden talent of his. One Sunday, me and RKR were walking out of our aunt’s house. RKR was scared of dogs, like me. As we came out of our aunt’s house, me and RKR saw a white Labrador barking at us. A teenaged boy was holding it. Both me and RKR were scared. We told the boy to hold the dog tightly so that we could walk out to the main road. As soon as RKR said this, I don’t what happened to the boy. The boy was trying to hold the cuff and keep the dog with him but the dog broke away and came at us. Me and RKR looked at each other for a second. We ignored our mind’s rational decision to stay still and instead, decided to listen to our instinct and decided to run and save our life. We equated the dog to a man-eating Royal Bengal tiger and ran for our lives. We didn’t even look at each other. The dog was coming at us. The boy was running behind the dog. Me and RKR were running without looking back. Usain Bolt would have been proud of our running. PT Usha would have nominated us to the Indian athletics team just seeing our 30 second sprint. The gully road led to the main road via a T junction. As me and RKR neared the main road, the road opened into two directions. I ran to the left. I did not see RKR.

As he was not behind/beside me, I assumed he ran to the right. After about 30 seconds more when I was gasping for breath, I stopped. I suddenly realized that I had lost RKR while running and I needed to find him. I started walking briskly to the other side of the T entrance to the main road. For a few minutes, I did not find RKR. I suddenly started panicking. All sorts of weird thoughts started entering my head. What if the Labrador had bit RKR and RKR was hospitalized? What if he had ran and met with an accident?  I was lost in these negative thoughts for a few seconds.

I felt miserable that I had not run holding RKR’s hand. That way at least both of us would have met with the same fate. It is in such situations that one realizes the true value of one’s father. RKR was after all my dad, who was instrumental in bringing me to this world.  Dejected at the entire chain of events, I was cursing the boy who could not hold the Labrador with him. Neither the boy, the dog, nor RKR were anywhere to be seen. I kept walking in the faint hope that I would see RKR coming from the opposite direction.

I had walked a few metres when I reached a cricket ground on my right. On every third Sunday, a league match would be played with players clothed in whites on a green mat. It would resemble a Test Match ground. I was staring at the middle of the pitch through the grilled fence . All sorts of thoughts started wavering in my head.

As a child, my dad had given me everything I had asked for. All my early memories like my first audio cassette – Darr ,my first animation movie – the Lion King ( my dad had promised me that if I came first in class, he would take me to a nice movie), the Sunday visits to the aquarium with him near Hussainsagar lake and many more memories started surfacing. I was kicking myself for being selfish and not looking at where my Dad was running. I was totally annoyed with myself. I dint want to go back home. What would I answer to my Mom, my aunt, my relatives?

As I neared the stands, I heard a familiar voice shouting at me “ Hari …” . It was RKR’s voice. It was such a relief. I was confused as to how did he land up as a spectator in this match, when a few minutes ago, he was running for his life. He seemed to have read my thoughts “I ran so fast and I could hear the dog coming after me, so I decided to climb up the grill and get into the ground so that the dog could not chase me” When both of us came home and narrated this incident, my Mom couldn’t stop laughing.

That incident, funny as it may sound in retrospect, made me realize the value of my dad. A few children are closer to their mothers, while for a few, it’s the other way around. I was and still am momma’s boy. Because my dad used to work and mom was a house-wife, most of my up-bringing was done by her.  My dad may not be the most perfect dad, but I think I am fortunate that he is still with me. Initially, I used to crib a lot about his imperfections and how he could never equal my mother.

We realize the true value of things when those things are no longer with us. When a few of my friends told me that they had lost their parents at a young age, I realized how lucky I was to have both my parents raising me .Thankfully, for me, the realization has come sooner before it’s too late. We all have our imperfections and, in our eagerness, to compare everything and everyone, we forget that each person is unique in their own way and continue to be judgmental.

Now, the wheel has turned full circle and I have become a dad and I can see my child thinking about me in future in the same lines a few years down the line. There are times when the baby is crying loudly and I am deep asleep. Its not that I intend to but it just doesn’t happen.

Becoming a dad also has made me realize the importance of one thing which most of corporate India has neglected – paternity leave. It’s really sad that most of the board members in the corporate world do not consider this as a priority. The situation is worse in some hospitals -where I am told even maternity leave is a luxury, forget paternity leave. There are a few bright spots like Zomato ( which recently announced a 6 month paternity leave for both men and women)  in an otherwise sad scenario . In today’s times, it is impossible to expect a woman to raise a child independently. The first six months of transition for a woman from wife to a mother is extremely difficult and the basic expectation from her is if the husband /dad spends “time”. There are various things organizations can do – something vary basic like paternity leave, to arranging sessions on how to transition to parenthood, career customization for new parents etc.

My dad worked in a PSU, which was pretty much a 9 to 5 job therefore I have a lot of fond childhood memories . In today’s times, someone who comes in at 9 and leaves by 5 is perceived as “not hungry for growth”. People who stay late , work on weekends, take calls post office hours are perceived to be more “hard-working” and rewarded with promotions in a lot of cases. Unless the culture in corporate changes from the top, there’s a grave danger that our future generations of kids may not have as many memories of their childhood with mom and dad, as our generation had. Father’s Day will become another tick-the-box activity. Let’s hope the future changes for the better.

Happy Father’s Day

Jai Hind

Recruitment Woes: Freaky Fridays: Weekly blog

This week’s blog is dedicated to my favorite department in the corporate world – the HR department. I am an MBA (HR) from Asia’s best institute for HR – XLRI Jamshedpur, but after having seen the way most HRs operate, I sometimes feel glad that I quit HR and moved to Sales. Now-a-days, I hear a fancy term – HRBP. Apparently, it stands for HR Business Partner but I think HR Business Puppet is more appropriate. When they literally have no say in most decisions , why falsely call themselves partners. You will agree with me when I take you through a few of the glorious HR botch-ups which I have experienced in my 9 year corporate career so far.

Let’s talk about the earth’s most customer-centric company “Ghamazon” ( the real name cannot be disclosed for fear of a legal backlash). Getting to know the CV shortlist status of the job you have applied for in this organization is like walking through Abhimanyu’s chakravyuh unscathed. You need to wage a “Ghamasaan” war just to find out if your CV has been shortlisted or otherwise. Of late, this company, which is the largest e-commerce company in the world, has pumped in close to 5 billion $ to win in the Indian market. If only they had invested at least 1%  of this in building a strong HR process, then their employer brand would have been way stronger. I had applied for a few roles here, which I thought would be suitable based on my previous work experience, via their online portal. Almost 20 people (my classmates, seniors and juniors from XL) work in HR here. Sadly, none of them could tell about whether my CV was shortlisted or rejected. They have an amazing candidate job portal, where in the candidate can see the status of his CV (applied, rejected, shortlisted). Sadly, even after 90 days, the portal was showing my CVs status as “applied”. The HR folks didn’t bother to update my status. I called up a few of my friends in the company and none of them had any clue. Finally, one of them said that my CV was untagged for those profiles so maybe I was not shortlisted. Why could the HR simply not update the same in their portal? I understand that the folks in this company are completely over-worked, almost on the verge of burn-out and crave for work-life balance like a kid craving for ice-cream. But what stops the HR from just updating a status on the portal? One of my HR friends in the organization was defending his fellow colleagues saying that each job posting receives 1000+ applications and it is impossible to screen so many CVs. A fair argument, but what stops someone from updating the status to “not shortlisted” for whatever reasons. Why have the portal in the first place? On one hand, the founder talks about the ultimate customer experience like “card-less shopping” while the HR department is not even bothered about updating a candidate’s status online. There’s a huge difference between the consumer experience and the employer brand experience. Hope someday, someone cleans this mess.

The fun gets better at its subsidiary ( let me call it Loud-tail). Ghamazon can’t retail products directly to consumers as per Indian e-commerce regulations so it has created this JV with an Indian partner. So, the interview process in Loud-tail is the same as the parent company. There are two telephonic rounds followed by five face-to-face rounds. This is as per Ghamazon global guidelines. Everything seems fair so far. Thanks to my HR friend referring me, I am shortlisted for the interview stage. After clearing the telephonic rounds, I am called for the face-to-face rounds. Questions are asked by different interviewers on the leadership principles and I am asked to describe past experiences. So 5 different people ask me the same set of questions, I give the same replies to different people. I am told that like MTV roadies, there will be a voting where each of the five interviewers will give their vote against me – yes or no. After meeting the 5 people and doing some research about their profile and experience, I get the first shock. 2 out of the 5 people are 3 years junior to me in batch and at the same designation as me. These people have no clue about distributor sales, but they probe me on it and argue why other approaches could not have been used. This is equivalent to a State Head of Kerala interviewing a State Head of Karnataka. And I get inside info that these two “panelists” have given a “no” vote to me. The fun gets better in the final round , which is called  a “Bar-raiser” round. The bar-raiser has the final say in case of a tie and is supposed to be a senior resource. When I meet him, he tells me that he has just worked for 10 days in Loud-tail and 8 years in Ghamazon. The bar-raiser also asks the same questions, I give the same answers. In all this tamasha, the HR’s role is only to co-ordinate the interviews, arrange conference rooms, escort me to the canteen area and give me a visitor card.I am told that HR is only a “facilitator” and a “support function”. Later, I come to know through my HR friend that I am rejected as the bar-raiser and the two peer “panelists” have given a “no” to me even the hiring manager was confident and had a yes. I don’t take this to heart but I quiz my friend as to why are peers/juniors interviewing a person of the same level. I am told that they need 5 panelists and as the employee base is small, there are not many senior panelists. Great logic but then why not reduce the number of panelists and have only senior folks interview. He replies with a  typical “Lakeer Ka Fakeer” reply – “Ghamazon’s global guidelines mandate that 5 people interview face-to-face”. Fair point but Ghamazon U.S and Loudtail India are two different organizations in two different contexts. Why the hell has a process which is illogical to be followed for just ticking the box? But as usual, why should HR have these tough discussions with global teams? Why bell the cat unnecessarily and create controversy? Typical safe HR mindset. And the best part is the HR doesn’t interview the candidate. It just “facilitates”. The icing on the cake though is the “bar-raiser”. Mr. Bar-raiser has an experience in supply chain and has zero experience of sales, key account management or business development and the role demands a person to be skilled at these. Yet, he thinks I do not have the required skill-sets or “special projects” to demonstrate these. Apparently, I have not met the bar.

The situation in Indian companies is no worse. I worked for six years in WIMC ( Well Known Indian Management Conglomerate). Recently, I referred someone for a Sales regional leadership position. I had sent a mail to the HR as I had their email ids. As expected, there was no reply – no thank you, no status nothing. And then the HRs complain about not able to close positions quickly, not able to generate referrals, not having a pool of profiles. I recently tried applying for a start-up ( let’s call it Hudaan). One of my XL juniors working there gave me a number of the HRBP working there. I called him saying I was looking for suitable opportunities. He said he would call me back. No prizes for guessing, he never called me back. I sent him a text later in the day asking for a time when I could chat with him. As expected, no reply and neither of us bothered after that.

Then, there are the great FMCGs of the world which only want to hire similar industry clones. While on hand, all the HR heads talk about diversity in organizations but in most organizations, there is zero diversity in employee profiles. If you have worked in one industry in sales, the recruiting fraternity ensures that you work in that industry for life. FMCGs want only FMCG experience, Banking folks only banking, healthcare folks want only healthcare and the list goes on. Zero value to the fact that a person who has worked in sales in X industry has his own learning curve which can make him adapt to Y industry. Nobody wants to take a risk and we all have industry clones. The outcome – no new diversity in idea generation, no new perspective. But the HR and the business leader feel proud that they have got an industry person.

All this are just recruitment related experiences. I haven’t even started on appraisals, transfers, resignation letters etc. Will leave that for a different day. Right now, it’s time to head to the gym. If ever I start a bar or a gym in the near future, no points for guessing what the name will be.

…..

……

“Bar-raiser” – of course.

Jai Hind

GoT – Game of Tokens : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

People say that scaling up Mount Everest is the most demanding activity in the world, as Base Camp takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. Even I thought so until I went about trying to get my address changed in my Aadhar card. In many ways, the struggle one needs to go through in this process makes you feel Base Camp was easier.

I had moved from Mumbai to Bangalore a couple of years ago and going by the increased importance being given to Aadhar in recent times, I decided to get my address changed sooner than later. Everyone now-a-days is raising a huge cry about privacy, data security and big data these days. I feel I have no right to comment on such topics if my basic data itself is not correctly updated. This is equivalent to organizations embarking on “digital transformation” projects despite not having basic customer data of correct email addresses and phone numbers. A few stand-up comedians have also created a song about how the Government is playing “Snoop Dogg” using Aadhar. I can’t understand what problem these guys have with the Government. It is “OK” to willingly give consent to FB, Google and all the God-damn apps in the world to use your contacts, read your messages , store your photos but “not OK” to give your name, mobile number and address to the Government of India as it is “snooping on your privacy”.

Having made up my mind to get my address updated, I started scouting for the nearest Aadhar updation center. Right behind my house in Bangalore is the great Jayanagar post office. A few days ago, I had seen a banner outside the post office – “Get your address changed for Aadhar here. “It had an India Post logo. I initially wanted to get my residential address changed at a “Bangalore One” centre, which is the State Government run centre for paying off utility bills, stamp duties etc. But since the post office was a stone’s throw away, I decided to go there to save time. After standing in a queue for 20 minutes, I was greeted with a warm smile by the officer. I gave him my aadhaar card and other documents. He smiled wickedly and said “Sir. We don’t do Aadhar updation here. You need to go to the Jayanagar head post office.” I asked him – “But what about the banner outside which tells a different message?” His smile grew wider when he said “Sir, that’s a branding initiative by the central marketing team. Only head offices have this facility, but they had printed these banners for the whole of India. They wanted to exhaust their marketing budgets”. I guess all marketing departments work the same way.

Frustrated, I went to the Jayanagar head post office. It was around 12 noon. This post office had a “token” system. So, I took a token and waited for about 30 minutes. When the announcer screamed “Token No. 83, Counter no. 5.”I felt relieved. As soon as I reached counter no.5, I was greeted with another wicked smile by the babu sitting at the counter. He said “Sir, all Aadhar related requests are only handled in the last counter. You can go there.” I went to the last counter. A young man in his 20s was sitting relaxed. He was scrolling his mobile. As soon as he saw me, he started opening some files trying to act busy. When I mentioned the word “Aadhar”, he smiled wryly. He said “Sir, we accept only 10 aadhaar requests per day. The tokens for that need to be collected at sharp 9 am everyday and we do this only for an hour. Please come back tomorrow.” I wanted to have a go at him then and there for his nonchalant attitude but decided to avoid it. This guy had no work but still had the guts to say what he said. I thought I will tweet to the PMO about it but I didn’t know whether they would still reply with the same intensity post elections ( now that the results are out and the most responsive minister on Twitter Sushma ji is no longer in the cabinet) , so I decided not to. This story would be good for a blog and anyways I was running out of weekly blog topics, so I decided to move on.

I left the Jayanagar head post office and decided to go to the Bangalore One centre. There were a lot of such centers but I decided to go to the main centre in Jayanagar as I did not want another repeat of the post office fiasco. To my surprise, the centre did not have a waiting at all. I was ecstatic. I went to the first counter and gave my aadhar card. The young lady smiled at me. I smiled back. She asked me “ How may I help you?”. I replied – “Aadhar address change”. She smiled again – “Token”. I smiled back -“ Why?” She yelled at me “ Don’t you know that this centre works on weekly token system? The tokens are given at the start of the week. Please take a token for next Thursday and come back” Apparently, the bigger the centre, the longer the queue. Disappointed, I decided to try a smaller center.

I went to the JP Nagar Bangalore One Centre. It was already 4 hours since I had started but I could not get a simple address change done. I decided that having come this far and waited so long, I would get the job completed today. Even if it meant standing for a few more hours. I started daydreaming. In my dream, I was singing the Gully boy rap song “Aazadi, Aazadi” having done my address change. Before I could dream further, the security at the entrance stopped me. He directed me to a special dedicated counter for Aadhar. I saw 3 people standing there. I stood behind them. At about 1:30 pm, my chance came. As 3 people before me had completed their updation, I thought mine also would be done in a jiffy. Unfortunately, I got the same reply “ Sir, these are the morning tokens and we have fulfilled our requests for the day. It is lunch time and we dont process Aadhar requests beyond our quota. You need to come tomorrow morning”. Like many liberals, I wanted to blame Modi for everything wrong with this country until someone told me these centers were run by the State Government. I wanted to take a loudspeaker and scream “ Kumaraswamy- Yelidiyaapa.. Y This Ch*tiyaapa”

However, better sense prevailed and I came home . When I told my wife that I was “Aadhaar-ed” today by the token systems, she told me to apply online. I somehow had missed looking the online way. I scanned the Aadhaar website for list of documents and figured out that my bank passbook did not have a photo-stamp and the website mandated this. So, I went to SBI to get this done. As soon as I went to the bank, the security guard gave me a “token” and asked me to wait. Before I could scream “Oh No.. Not another token”, there was a song playing on the LCD screen which pacified me.

“Hum Honge kamyaab… Hum Honge kamyaab.. Ek Din

Mann mey hai vishwaas.. Poora Hai vishwaas..

Hum Honge kamyaab.. Ek Din”

Jai Hind

Omni Channel Fiasco: Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Omni-channel strategy is a heavily abused corporate buzzword now-a-days. It’s a synonym for “brick and click”. In layman’s terms, it’s a combination of online and off-line presence which work together to deliver the “ultimate customer experience”. The corporate world defines it as a “seamless” integration of the physical and digital world. In a multi-channel strategy, you have multiple formats but they don’t “talk” to each other. A very dangerous futuristic example of an omni-channel experience is as follows.

You are sitting in your commode and browsing your phone. Google baba tracks your commode habits and your commode is geo-tagged. You suddenly figure that you need a change of commode as it has become old and got cracks in it. Google baba also see you searching for “stylish and smooth pink color” commodes. This information is fed to the commode company, which has tied up with Baba for an omni-channel integration via an analytics agency. You have also clicked “I agree to all kinds of stupid shit as it’s a pre-requisite to use your app. I have understood that you can access my contacts, photos , location, messages and have the time of your life at my expense. You can do anything you want by using my data. I accept usage of your cookies”. These online cookies are extremely distasteful, unlike the real tasty ones which grandma used to make for us. As you have again sold your data to these cookie-based websites and apps for free ( which is the equivalent of “ I have paid ..to get laid”), all your browsing habits rest with Google baba and the whole world. A few days later, when you go to the nearest showroom to buy your dream commode, the receptionist asks for your mobile number and email id at the entrance. In two minutes, you will see the salesperson arriving and directly talking about a pink commode and mentioning about it being “stylish and smooth “. This is a highly futuristic scenario of omni-channel integration for the Indian consumer.

A few companies globally are already doing this but for many organizations, this kind of integration is a distant dream as trying to get to speak to their customer care itself is an achievement. Take HDFC bank for example. “Dial 0 for loss of credit card and for 1 for all other things which we don’t bother “. If you have any other issue like upgrading your credit card etc, then they will ensure that they keep you waiting long enough that you feel it’s a dream come true if you get to speak to their customer care. Thinking of an omni-channel strategy is a strict no-no as they only want to adopt a “we manage only lost credit cards” strategy. The tagline in their ads is aptly titled“we understand your world”.

Then, there are a few diamonds like our very own “Airtel” which are so bad at basics that they should be banned for life for using words like “omni-channel”. Not so long ago, it advertised about being an “open” network and a feedback driven organization. I think the folks there are “open” only about their “collections from consumers”. The moment my data card postpaid bill got overdue by a day, their collection department would call every few hours. I had asked them to discontinue my data card in November, when their collection agent called the first time. They had even imposed a late payment fee for delaying. I told them that I can only pay the bill amount and asked them to disconnect immediately as i was no longer using it. The tele-callers asked me to pay and they said they would immediately disconnect. To my horror, every month they kept charging me for the next three months and called me up to pay the overdues. I did not respond. Finally, one brave collection agent called me and said he’s coming to my house to collect the money. I had to tell him that I would call the police if he comes without my permission and file a case of harassment. He then took me on conference call with his boss. His boss threw a googly which even Shane Warne would be proud of. He said that only collections were his responsibility and to get a connection termination request, I had to call on their customer care. It took 120 days for someone to explain me this simple process. I told them that I was filing a legal complaint and they could do whatever they want. After that, the monthly bills keep accumulating till date but the collection agents would have tagged me as a “NPA” and that’s the reason why the collection calls don’t come. No wonder the Airtel girl in their ad keeps harping “Sab kuch try karo, phir sahi chuno”

The lifetime achievement award for a mismanaged omni-channel, however, should go to ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Upon my financial planner’s advice, I decided to opt for a “hassle-free online” experience. So, I paid the premium amount of 20 odd grand and submitted all my documents online. The next day, I got a call from their customer care saying they have not received the documents. I mailed them again. This exercise repeated twice in two days. Fed up, I decided to go and submit the documents at their branch office in Jayanagar. I quoted my document reference number at their branch location. The folks there told me that online complaints could “only” be resolved by the online team “online”. Their department had nothing to do with “online” applications. I was flabbergasted. In the same company, there were two departments which behaved like India and Pakistan. Based on the offline team’s advice, I cancelled my online application at the offline branch. The money would be refunded and then I could apply again offline in the branch. I was asked to fill a form stating reasons for the online cancellation. The reason for cancellation “personal reasons” was pre-ticked in the form. Before I could give my piece of mind and use the words “legal notice” and “mental harassment” again, the branch manager intervened and counselled the employee to issue a new form. Then, I was asked to provide a blank cheque along with my bank account details. I had paid through my credit card and I couldn’t understand why they could not credit it to the same account and do a simple credit reversal. The front desk employee again repeated “ Sir, online and offline are two completely different departments and we have this SOP” I cursed myself for applying online. I was told it would take 20 working days for the money to be refunded to my savings account. I waited for 25 working days, but my account did not show any refund. When I called the call centre, they replied “Sir, this is handled by the offline department so please sort it out there”. I went to the branch next day and asked them about my status. They had no clue and told me it was the “claims” department job and they had already given instructions. I followed up regularly for the next two weeks but nobody had any clue where my refund was stuck. I was ready to write a long rant on their social media handles but before I could do that, I received my credit card statement.  Guess what? The amount had been reversed in my credit card statement and no one had any clue. Ironically, ICICI Pru’s tag line is – “We cover you. At every step in life”

So friends, the next time you read about a company boasting about its “omni-channel” strategy to provide a best-in-class customer experience, you know which case studies to refer to.

Jai Hind

Mr. X : Schizophrenia Day Special Blog

Two days ago (24th May) was World Schizophrenia Day. Unlike its sexier counterparts like Valentine’s Day, there was no major marketing by any organization or any blitzkrieg on news/print/TV. Barring a few selfless psychiatrists and a few articles in the “inside” pages, nobody else had a major business stake so majority of the selfish world (me included) chose to ignore it. There were bits and pieces here and there but amidst all the euphoria over the return of NaMo in the world’s biggest democracy, this subject got drowned.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain and interferes with a person’s ability to think, feel and behave clearly. This is characterized by symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and bizzare behavior. I first stumbled upon this term when I read “Tell Me Your Dreams” – a Sidney Sheldon classic where the protagonist is affected by schizophrenia. The subject was also nicely tackled in Shankar’s movie “Aparichit / Anniyan” where Vikram beautifully essays the character. It is Vikram’s finest movies till date and it is credit to director Shankar that he is able to make masala movies with a subtle social theme and still rake in the moolah. Reading the book and watching the movie helped me understand the difficulties of dealing with people who have been affected by such mental illnesses.

Like most Indians, who are happy to lead a happy-go-lucky life and do not want to discuss difficult subjects, I too did not bother too much about mental illnesses and forgot about this term. Until Mr. X happened. Mr. X (name not revealed in the interest of confidentiality) is someone whom I know at a very deep level. His mom had her first psychotic disorder when he was 16 years old. One fine day, she suddenly told her son and husband that someone was staring at her continuously from the window. She started crying. She said that she was feeling tortured. X and his dad actually thought this was true as they had not heard of such illnesses. Things got bad to worse when X’s mom asked them to leave the house immediately as she feared someone was coming to kill her. X , who was a 16 year old believed this to be true and actually boarded a bus and both mother and son went to their relatives place. In the bus, X’s mom pointed at a random individual and said he had a gun. X got down from the bus and took an auto to rush to his relatives house. There also, the same story repeated. It took X’s relatives to convince him that her mother was suffering from a psychotic attack. 15 years ago, the awareness levels were very low to deal with mental illnesses. So, the family members tried reaching out to a “baba” to ward off “evil spells”. Finally, medical sense prevailed and a mental rehab centre was contacted. They came and took X’s mom by force and administered shock therapy. The scars of that incident still remain in X’s memory. In a few weeks’ time, thanks to shock therapy and medication, X’s mom recovered. The whole family hoped that this incident would not relapse.

10 years later, a relapse occurred. The same hallucinations happened and this time, thanks to advances in medicine, a shock therapy was no longer the first mechanism. Tablets could cure. Mr. X was looking to get married that time. After one of the alliances was finalized, he decided to disclose this to the bride’s parents. No prizes for guessing what happened next. The alliance was called off as the girl’s parents were scared what would happen to her child. They asked Mr.X to show the tablets. They googled and felt that the tablets were for suicide and not mental illness. A Chat with the doctor was in vain. After this shunning, Mr. X decided not to open this topic ever and hoped the episode would never relapse.

Destiny had other ideas though. Just when Mr. X’s wife got pregnant, his mom’s episode relapsed again. She threw away a lot of things in a fit of rage. This impacted X’s wife as well as a lot of her dearest items were gone. She started developing a dislike for X’s mom quite naturally. Later, it was found that as she had stopped taking tablets, so the chemical composition of the brain had altered and such behavior was not intentional but a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Mr. X was lucky to have a mature and understanding family from his in-law’s side, especially his father-in-law. The others wanted a hospital admission but thanks to the patriarch’s opinion and Mr.X’s own experience of handling it for the third time, the condition of his mom got better with a psychiatrist’s help and medication. Mr. X also was lucky to have a supportive boss , whom he confided in. The boss took over some of his work and granted him an indefinite leave so that he could take care. Thanks to all this support along with a great consultation by a psychiatrist, his mom got back to normalcy in 45 days. Those 45 days were quite stressful for the whole family but I think God wanted to test their character.

Mr. X’s mother is one amongst the 8 crore Indians who suffer from mental illness in some form or the other. That’s a shocking 6.5% of the population. The sad paradox in our country is that as per WHO 2014 reports, the ratio of psychiatrists and psychologists is an abysmal “One in 1 lac people”. On the one hand, there is an outcry about jobs shrinking whilst the places where jobs are desperately needed get the fewest applications. In urban India, at least there are hospitals where this gets treated and experts available. But I am scared what would be happening in rural India. The uneducated poor may be killed/socially cut-off thinking they have been “exorcised” or “bewitched” or “under the influence of Satan”. We never know what happens there as the discussion there has not yet moved beyond toilets and drinking water despite 65 years of progress.

Unfortunately, most of the Indian society still feels mental illness is a stigma where in they want to be away from the persons affected. The topic is not discussed at all in schools, colleges therefore naïve people like Mr.X in his college days are unable to understand such a possibility exists. The reaction of the society for mentally traumatized patients is of two kinds generally – either be extremely aloof or admit them in hospital. I guess the people of this country will pick themselves up only if they fall. Which is why a deeply important subject like “World Schizophrenia Day” gets only 2000 odd hashtags globally compared to a silly “Belieber” hashtag which runs into millions. The developed nations are equally bad at managing mental illness. Understanding, appreciating and medical help are the three pillars of this. It was really brave of a celebrity like Deepika Padukone to openly talk about her depression and start the Live Love Laugh Foundation.

As the rural urban divide deepens and droves of aspirational Indian millennials comes out of college every year, one can’t help think of the danger of neglecting an important subject like mental illness. Schizophrenia, depression, psychotic disorders, suicidal tendencies are all part of the same family. It is high time we give a serious thought and change our “touch-me-not” attitude of attaching “stigma” to all forms of mental illness. Otherwise, this can become a destructive virus. Mental health supersedes physical health. A strong mind can overcome any physical onslaught. But a strong body with a weak mind cannot overcome any mental onslaught. Unfortunately, we learn chemical reactions in school but do not learn about the most destructive chemical reaction – the ones which happen in the mind. Not every-one may be as lucky as Mr.X to see their mom come back to normalcy after being on the brink three times. Let’s act before it is too late. Else, like poverty, this will become a perennial problem for the motherland. Living only on hope is a dangerous thing. The clock is already ticking.

Jai Hind

Birthday Specials – Prince Augustin – Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

I first heard of Prince Augustin in my Group HR days at the Mahindra Group 8 years ago.  Prince would be taking over as the Executive Vice President – Group Human Resources in two months’ time then. In those days, Prince was the HR Head for the Automotive Sector in Mahindra. Prince’s mother had passed away then and we had all gone to attend the funeral in Chembur. I was amazed to see the entire Mahindra auto sector leadership fraternity in attendance for the funeral. There were about 150 senior leaders present for something which was not mandatory and more of a personal gesture. I was awestruck by the way this man had a personal connect with so many people. Outside of corporate success, this is the kind of respect one aspires for in a career. That was my first memory of Prince.

Before Prince joined Group HR, we were told that Prince was one of the most difficult bosses to work with and only a few people could survive under him. There was a distinct aura about him and also a sense of fear. Allen Sequeira, the earlier head of Group HR was retiring after having crafted a spectacular journey over more than 10 years and had set very high standards with respect to various initiatives and programs. Change management , in a diversified conglomerate like Mahindra, which is a mix of old school and young professionals is a complex challenge purely due to the diversity of various stakeholders involved. The baton had been passed over to Prince and some of the critical initiatives like the GMC program ( hiring students from India’s top B schools) , the leadership development program and talent management for senior leaders needed a booster dose and were in danger of decaying. It was a difficult job at hand and all of us in Group HR were nervous about the leadership style. We were told by a few that he was extremely aggressive, and we needed to be very careful. Some people even compared his style to Hitler.

But all those fears were proved wrong in our team’s first interaction. Prince was anything but Hitler-esque. Instead of meeting only the team leader, he called the entire team. And this was not a one-off. Prince never used to believe in the age-old hierarchical school of only meeting and interacting majorly with the direct reports. His level of detailing is amazing. He started getting into the details of the last T. Some of the questions he would ask us in our meetings would make us dumbfounded as to why such a senior leader should be so involved in execution. In my experience, he was the first leader at a very senior level who actually spoke about execution of initiatives and got involved as well. The other thing about Prince was he would always be curious to learn and if he didn’t know something, he would openly admit and get his answers from the team. This is in contrast with a leadership style where certain leaders want to put up a “know-it-all” façade of an image in front of their team.

I spent only 12 months working with Prince but the learnings under him will be carried for life. The best part about Prince is he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. I have seen a lot of HR leaders become politically diplomatic and side with the popular choice or the business head’s choice when it comes to opinions and decisions. Prince is anything but this. If he strongly believed in something basis his logical deduction and opinion, he would not hesitate to call it out vocally to the senior most of leaders. I have seen him get into tough discussions and voicing out his opinion during calls with the likes of Anand Mahindra and other senior leaders. These leaders are above him in hierarchy and designation, but Prince is someone who doesn’t mince words when he feels so and he wants to convey his opinion.  I guess this is why a lot of leaders at that level love Prince for his ability to be honest , straightforward and expressive nature.

Despite this ability to speak his mind, Prince has built an amazing relationship amongst his peers, superiors and subordinates. I have seen a lot of people in the corporate world who have high networking skills but also have a diplomacy and a selfish give and take attitude. Prince invests a lot in building relationships but never changes his core personality.  With Prince, you can be frank and honest and tell your problems and he will try to close the problem himself. He doesn’t believe in postponing or delegating problems. He would ask us –“who is to be called?” Instantly, he would pick up the phone, call the respective stakeholder, talk it out and move on. As a leader, if you can solve the problems of your sub-ordinates quickly, then the respect increases multi-fold. Prince was that go-to-man for all problems during my stint with him. He also would not tolerate mediocrity at work. If a presentation was shoddy, he would call it out and ask us to come back with a better output. Only if he was completely convinced, he would go ahead. Else, he would make us go through the iterations. Working with such a leader also improves your own quality of thinking and raises the bar.  There were quite a few presentations where we were blasted and would go out dejected. But Prince would always come out of the meeting and tell us not to take this to heart and reassure us.

Prince’s career has spanned over 35 years but he has worked only in a handful of companies. He has been with the Mahindra Group since 2003. The thing about great leaders is they are able to build great teams. Prince has been able to keep his long-serving P.A/E.A Kirsten motivated enough to work under him for more than a decade. Prince’s loyal team not only includes his P.As and E.As but also his driver. Whenever he goes to any event or conference, he ensures that his driver Irfan also gets to eat something. He doesn’t need to do this but such noble acts ensure the likes of Irfan also swear by him. He also believes in instant rewards for excellent work. I remember having worked extremely hard for pulling off the Mahindra War Room Grand Finale event and the very next day, he personally handed over a 2 nights/3 days Club Mahindra voucher inclusive of flight for 2 people and a handwritten note for putting all the hard work. I wasn’t expecting anything as there was no such policy but Prince wanted to ensure that we were instantly gratified for our hard work. He did not care about looking at any budget or policy. He just wished well. People everywhere work hard, but very few people get instant appreciation and recognition. Prince was truly princely when it came to rewards and recognition.

Prince also is a gem of a person at heart, and he believes that people should prosper in their careers. Unlike many, he does not believe in holding resources close to him forever. He ensures that people who have worked under him get roles which they like. It was because of his push that I moved from HR to Sales, a drastically different career choice, but he convinced a lot of senior folks about my potential. Later, in 6 months’ time, when I thought I will quit sales, he backed me urging me to see a full year’s cycle and if required, he said he would talk to the Zonal Manager to ensure that I succeed. That was his way of giving confidence to people. I took his advice and by God’s grace, there has been no looking back. My classmate Udit, who worked as his E.A, moved to China after two years. Prince was selfless in more ways than one as he has fought for a lot of people, if he felt he was right.

After moving to Sales, I wasn’t in very regular touch with him but would try to consult him whenever things were not going ok. I invited him to my wedding. He could not make it but he sent a greeting card, a note and a cheque of a substantial amount. I wasn’t expecting this. He had nothing to do with me but still such genuinely selfless acts ensure you connect with a person at a much deeper level.

A work-o-holic who jokes that “work is life, life is work and hence they balance out” , Prince is lucky to have an understanding wife like Carol who has stood by him by a rock and allowed to him to become a HR Rockstar. He has practiced what he preaches “do the things that help you visibly differentiate yourself. Have an abundance mindset, not a scarcely competitive mindset. The world has place for everyone.” No wonder that his alma mater, SIBM Pune, conferred upon him the “Alumnus of the year” in 2011 and “ Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to HR”.

In a corporate world dominated by servility, self-centered, politically correct “yes-ministers”, Dr. Prince Augustin stands tall as a selfless, straight-speaking , fearless HR stalwart . Prince not only by name, but by heart and deeds.

Happy Birthday Prince.

May you continue to inspire people around you. Fortunate to have worked with you.

Jai Hind

A “DAY” in Moorakh-land : Freaky Fridays – Weekly Blog

Once upon a time in Moorakh-land, the world’s first marketeer ( Mungerilaal Pasha) sat under a tree trying to think of ways to create demand on certain specific days in a year. An apple fell on his head. The marketeer cut the apple into two and a God-sent letter emerged from the apple – “Hey Moorakh! The answer to your problem lies with you. Just create “days” for every occasion and the fools of this world will come running to you and spend time and money remembering the occasion”

The marketeer started spreading this message to the Marketing Brotherhood. First came HRB (Hotels and Resorts Business) Singh. He said “ Bhaijaan, how do I ensure that all the hotels, resorts are filled on one specific day of the year and people spend any amount of money just to be there on that day ?” Pasha quickly replied “ Arey Moorakh ! Just create New Year’s Eve parties and bashes. The Moorakhs will party as if the world is going to end. They will pay any amount of money to post that cool status message saying they were out on New Year’s Eve. Every God-damn hotel, resort and restaurant in this world will be full. Put up any price and the fools will pay. The industry will recover the full year’s investment on this one day. Add some masala by bringing in some DJs, some sugar candy. The sweeter the eye-candy, the more your profits.” HRB Singh went away with this advice and the entire hospitality industry lived happily ever-after.  

Next up, a lost GC ( Greeting Card ) Malhotra came to Pasha for a solution to drive greeting card sales. Pasha gave him an apple and said “This is God’s gift to you. Cut this into two and you will find your answer”. GC cut the apple and found a letter on which was written “Feb 14th is your answer Moorakh. The full day sales of greeting cards on Feb 14th will always be higher than the rest of the year combined”. GC Malhotra lived happily ever after. However, his younger brother GC Pandey was also into the greeting card business and he had a non-compete agreement with GC. He therefore could not do any sales on Feb 14th. He fell at the feet of Mungerilal Pasha. Pasha did not have an immediate answer, so he took GC Pandey to the same apple tree and asked him to meditate. An apple fell on his head and he cut it into two. A genie emerged and said “Moorakh ho tum! What if you cannot sell greeting cards on Feb 14th? We have other “Days” for you – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, Fraandship Day… The fellow moorakhs of this world will continue to buy greeting cards… ” GC’s brother lived happily ever after.

Looking at the success of HRB Singh and the GC brothers, a few other marketeers came as a group and approached Mungerilaal Pasha to improve their sales. Pasha had never heard of these folks. Their names were Rosie Singh, Teddy Khan and Chocolaty Fernandes. Pasha gave them an apple each. On cutting the apples, they found a common letter which read “ Hey Murakhs… Fools are an abundance in this world… There is no end to the world’s obsession for “Days”. For you guys, the Almighty has created a week-long festival to drive sales of your products – Rose Day, Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Day, Promise Day, Hug Day, Kiss Day – all before V Day “. Rosie , Teddy  and Chocolaty lived happily ever after.

Spell-bound by this success, the mother of all marketeers – the tech-savvy e-commerce behemoths decide to do a video call with Mungerilaal Pasha.The Flipkart marketing head found his answer “Big Billion Days”. Do it every 2 months and you will get your sales” The Amazon marketing head was told – “Organize your “Days” in and around the same time as your competition. The results will follow “. Both these ecommerce companies lived happily for a while, until Mr. Ambani decided to enter this business. Once he entered this business, every Day was a Bigger Billion Day. Ambani lived happily ever after.

A few others also approached Mungerilaal Pasha. Pasha never turned down anyone as he was aware of the business opportunity presented by the silly world and its obsession with days. Books Day, Dance Day, Space Day, Pets Day,  Logical Day, Illogical Day…. the list went on and on. A few sections of the society though, could not digest this phenomenon. They by-passed Pasha and called the Almighty for help. First came the politicians with their request – “God, we want to swindle daily and not on specific Days.” Then came the auto-wallahs” Lord, we want to fleece our consumers daily. We can’t wait for certain “Days” to do our business disproportionately, unlike the greeting card companies and the restaurants”. The likes of Mallya , Modi (the diamond merchant and not the chowkidaar) and Goyal also had the same complaint. For these people, a special quota was created – “The invincible quota”. These people’s lives would be unaffected by Mother’s , Father’s , Valentine’s or Children’s Day. Every day would be business as usual. “Jab tak hai Jaan, tab tak hai kaam, lootera humra naam, sabko hai pranaam” was their mantra.

The people of “Moorakh-land” continued to live happily. More and more “Days” propped up, which brought more and more business to various stakeholders. One day, Mungerilaal Pasha passed away in his sleep. His son, Chotu Pasha was worried that there would be no more wealth accumulation in the family. So, he went to the famous apple tree and prayed fervently to God asking for a way to find new business. After a month-long wait, an apple fell on his lap. Chotu cut the apple and found a piece of paper.  On it the following words were written –

“Sunday ho ya Monday, Moorakh-land will splurge every Day…

If today’s times it is V-Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

The future will see Burger Day, T-shirt Day and Sofa Day.

Jab tak rahega samosey mey aalu,

Tab tak rahega yahaan moorakh-pan chaalu

Ja dikha-dey sabko apni yeh marketing jalwa

Kyunki aisi duniya mey zindagi na milegi dobara”

Jai Hind