This is my latest book. Based on my travel to over 4 dozen countries and the wit, wisdom and vignettes gathered in various meetings, conversations and experiences with various people from presidents, pushcart vendors, policemen to pole dancers. all written in a positive spirit. It is in #4 rank now… you can make it #1.
This is the first tree (me with the tree) we planted in Myanmar in Jul 2015. The growth seems as good as the best in India – done on soil and with Tribals as virgin as God created them. A few lessons on the way.
1 The steel frame of bureaucracy may not be a British invention after all. The tribal societies seems to have as rigid a pecking order and rules and regulation and protocols within their small local communities of may be 40 or 10 families. Who takes the call at the community level and family level are well established and you bypass them at your own peril. How you initiate any communication and how it percolates are matters for curious study.
2 For those who have never seen much (or any) money in their lives beyond some basic food and shelter, one would have thought they would be keen to get some to secure their future. But they seem hardly to care. They just walk away from you at the slightest of pretexts; if they dont like something they just walk never to be contactable again – not even to collect their back period wages perhaps. Greed and a sense of security i thought were instincts. They seemed to assume that they will continue to survive the way they have. Savings and security does not seem to be established as even a ‘need’ with them.
3 If 1 X 1 X 1 = 1 what is 2X2X2? It is 2 for them. It might take you 3-4 months to convince them but it is more a matter of negotiation. When we had to dig pits and downsized the requirements from 2X2X2 feet to 1X1X1, wages were initially allowed to fall only by ½.
4 Communicating with them is an art and science of patience. Anger does no good. Communication is more than just about language and tongue. Facial expressions, tones, body language, respecting the hierarchy and pecking order and their esteem, patience… a whole range of things come into play, if you want to get anything done. Language and tongue become just delivery boys.
5 Indians might appear to be the most impatient and rude to them. quiet often you find them drifting away for finding us too rude. When an Indian knows something thats the matter of discussion in a meeting he just cant keep it with himself. He has to share/ impose it on the larger group. Sometimes it is a point of order even if contextually irrelevant, and if the Indian is too junior, it will take the form of an innocent question (actually an answer/prescription masquerading as a question).
Toilets are a must, although in most cases it is some 50-100 feet away of vegetation from the hutment made of wood, which look solid. With snakes (ubiqutous), occasional porcupines and foxes and elephants … but they dont seem to worry too much.
Foot Volleyball – Buddhist Oneness (?) Vs Individualism
Most of them (as indeed in many parts of East Asia) play foot volleyball with a ball wowen of bamboo strips. Just foot and head used. Its a passion with them. Their skill levels and body fitness is amazing. Banana kicks to send the ball over the net or place them seem superior to World Cup footballers. And they do it even on concrete or metalled roads though usually on soil or grass field. I took the video of people playing near a toll gate on tarred surface and returned to my car.
I started admiring their skill, physical fitness and their courage (or stupidity) – a wrong landing and they might break their bones. But my host at the wheel said in a complianing tone: ‘but this is not the way it was played before. We all used to stand in a circle – young and old and the aim was to keep the ball up for as long as possible – longer than the last time, previous day, ever, etc. We had a lot more fun that way. Even today many of the interior areas or even the inner streets of here, you can see that’. His tone didn’t leave me in doubt that he longed for. ‘May be from about last 10-15 years they put a net in between and the fun element is gone’ May be this was what was cooking in his mind.
(these are my words). By creating this division they created competitive spirit instead of the oneness and team spirit. So one team (losing) had to go back home with a grumpy face and ruminate overnight or till they played next time on what might have been, copius well-spring of self examination and criticism etc. And another set walking home with a smile on their face instead of everyone walking home with a smile on their face. The oneness embodied by Budhism’s symbol replaced by Western individualism making at least one half unhappy.
But i did greatly admire the skill levels promoted by the net in between. I wonder if the very precise kicking over the net and placement would have happened without the net.
East Vs West
I have heard it from several people as gratuitous advice – that the Morning Sun is good for health and that Evening Sun is harmful. I have never appreciated the logic when the Sun is the same. Nobody has demonstrated it to me. There was a coffee plantation nearby where we made a short stop on two gentle slopes one side facing the East and another West and a road between. The plants on the side facing East looked 2-3 times as well grown and looked far more healthier than the ones facing the West. The planter explained that the Morning Sun is more of infra red rays and on balance more beneficial for plant health and the evening Sun has more of Ultra Violet rays which on balance is more harmful and one could see its demonstration right in front.
Our Local partner (YA) is well known to our embassy staff in Myanmar who uses him to fix appointments with local businessmen, business assn. meetings for visiting dignitaries, arrange for functions in the embassy, etc. He is known to a few of our envoys in the region.
Sometime back our Ambassador in Singapore had called him and said that there was a leading Tamilian film producer (K for short) (whose wife was a leading actress) who is interested in investing $5 – $ 10 million in a Myanmar based story and that he would like YA to help Director K in his proposed visit to Myanmar.
YA: I was puzzled on what exactly was the help needed but Ambassadors request are generally treated as orders and we simply do what is requested.
‘I took K one night to the Night club below Hotel PR (actually a pick up joint) and he wanted to see a decent one. I took him to Fuse a well-known dance Bar where couples can jive to live music. I had known the owner and he had permitted us to be there 2 males.
‘We spotted a lovely looking single young lady about 20 yrs age cute and beautiful. It was clear after sometime she was alone and we struck a conversation with her. I inquired about her and how come single in there. This is what she related.
“I sometimes give company to some people and do some odd work for the club in reciprocation…. go to tailoring and fashion stitching class during the day and the nights I spend here and some other clubs.
YA/K : But isn’t it too much work. how are u managing the load?
Girl: Oh yeah no … I make some $ 2000 to$ 2500 from per month from these and is very essential for me.
YA: Vow … that’s an awful lot of money – do you really need to work so hard?
Girl: I lost my father and have to spend $ 1000-1200 on my mother’s cancer treatment every month. … when her cancer was detected I sold my virginity for $ 3000 to finance her operation and first level treatments. But the treatment is on-going and i have to continue with odd nights out and some soft nights in clubs like this to make ends meet.
YA: What do you plan to do with your fashion design lessons?
Girl: Oh that’s my passion and life dream. I will set up a fashion store first and later become a fashion designer myself.
YA: No marriage then?.
Girl: Of course I will marry – once my mother is through with her illness and my younger sister (whose education I am financing) is settled education wise. But before marriage i want to set up the store and stabilise my income at decent levels independently.
YA comments: There was fire in her voice and dreams and clear cut plan and a sense of determination about her responsibilities. We were taken by surprise about these in her given our general perception about people in similar profession, whom we tend to take lightly or even derisively. There was definitely a lesson for me that night. Its too condescending to say ‘wrong ways for a right cause’
If that’s the choice that a democratic laisse faire system has presented to her and she has had the freedom to choose, what can be our problem.
I admire her sense of duty and leadership to her family and the clear cut plan she has laid out for her life. I am sure she would do something great with her life.
I do not know whether this story interested Dir K.
The Smiling Traffic Cop
Delhi has had a dancing Cop and Myanmar has a national icon in the Smiling Cop who has featured in the front pages of New York Times for his adorable ways in his work – always similing, in directing the traffic, in resolving jams, catching people violating rules, educating them while reprimanding them but forever keeping his smile. Lots of foreigners offer him tips and take photos with him and he has been allowed by Government to take it tax free, which i learnt he contributes to charity. He has brought enormous respect for his profession and the often unappreciated tribe called the Traffic Cop.
The Truth about the Trouble in Rohingyas
This is about the international reports on Rohingyas problem in Myanmar.
Recent Reports seems to have got it as wrong as it can. Unfortunately reports in St Times or Bangkok posts seem a lot worse than one sided. I can sense that the reporters may not have moved an inch from their desk in filing their reports. The BP reporter wd hv had a tough time filling in the words for the 2nd half of his/her report.
Spoke to a Muslim (he is not one of the displaced or a Rohingya; he has lived 68 yrs since birth in the adjoining district) about the problem. Based on his version and local news versions … this is what seems to have happened.
ARSA is the terrorist group fighting for Rohingyas. Normally their fight is with the army. But this time they killed 4-6 Hindus, an equal number of Buddhists and attacked the local police posts. Hindus have had to keep quiet. Burmese Buddhists have no way of tracing the terrorists and have got into pitched battles with Rohingyas in retaliation. Local Police is bitten and you know where their sympathies would be. Totally about 20 people may have died according to him.
The police has set up many check posts to curb infiltration all over the adjoining districts/states. Some 13000 -odd Rohingyas have got displaced. but about 4600 Buddhists families have also been displaced and their monasteries are sheltering them.
The Government y’day arranged a trip for the media, whosoever cared -international and local – to the affected areas so that they can report facts. But you know the media and their opinion – they always run away when asked to prove their manhood. Lets see what comes out.
There is also inter govt conference against Fake news in Japan. Its high time the fake news, motivated news, and one sided news are put paid to. Its also time that they stop excessive interference with democratically elected govt beyond a point – they want to set the agenda without responsibility, report without verification.
There may be truth in outside media reports – but why are they afraid to present truth from both sides.
This is rather bashful and may sound offensive to some of you; so please exercise discretion to read or reject. But pl feel free to be copious in criticism , in case you read it: I will know if my line of thought is directionally correct or i need to relook. Thanks.
From time to time there are whatsapp waves or internet deluges claiming or implying India’s Culture is the Best and that it can teach so much to the West but India has itself nothing much to learn from the rest. (if You don’t agree? – you can trawl internet. Or give up reading further). Sure any ancient civilization like India’s must be having something great to give others. The things cited in favour are the family values, mohella culture, way we come to others’ rescue during crises, our everlasting marriages, and of course West’s flippant marriages and divorce rates of 43%, 67%, 97% whichever way the tongue twists and as soon as this trump card is dealt … if you are sensible you are supposed to concede defeat and shut up.
Without perfecting the art of Match making, to expect marriage that last a life time seems rather naive to me. This threat to quit I think is essential for both sides … for the men folks to defend excessive hen pecking and domineering and for the women folk against abuse and philandering by their men. Otherwise it will become like a football match where the referee has no powers of yellow or Red cards. I am within striking distance of kissing death with my first marriage intact … so i can say this without guilt of justification.
First the West, then the East
A few years back, I was escorting the CEO of the 2nd largest paper company in Europe after a day long discussions in our office. The first thing he told me on entering the lift was that he had a 21 year daughter and that his concerns regarding her were she does not take to wrong husband or go lesbo since that seemed to be the fashion. “i am sure she is not into drugs or other addiction”. I naively asked him if she was his daughter. “why you ask? This is my only marriage and only daughter”.
At another time the chief of Business Development of the largest European player, while on a drive to their plant, started lamenting that his daughter of 19 was not coming with them for vacations, participating in family get togethers etc. ‘We have even told her to take her separate room and otherwise offered incentives … but then you know we are clueless’. I have had a middle aged German PhD telling me once over phone on a holiday (i dialled without knowing it) that he was busy cutting trees in his father in laws farm since his FIL was too old to handle it and that he would dial once done.
I have not often come across those who are into 2nd and 3rd marriage. I don’t go about doing a survey and hence it will be foolish of me to be conclusive. So I would rather reserve my judgement. The images I carried till i started interacting with them closely and frequently is vastly at variance with I have heard from others.
When the Vietnam Cabinet had come to India, since we were pursuing some project there we were asked to see them. We were seated and the person from their delegation who was to be seated opposite me came in and even while pulling the chair and trying to sit, shot straight as an arrow …”how many children you have”. My neighbour who was more in tune with their culture whispered ‘its normal for them’. He enquired what my daughter was doing and i said engineering. He shared his sons plans and said ‘he is Ok, I have discussed and let him have his choice but my daughter i am confused and i will suggest engineering to her after your daughter’. All these even without shaking hands or introduction. I later came to know he was their Industries Minister.
So howsoever high may you be, concern for the family and sons and daughters run deep even in permissive societies.
So much for my boast about high profile meetings…now some show off about my rub with other cultures.
Whether it is our cultural shortcoming or otherwise, we have a lot to learn where it concerns treatment of women, children and the old and underprivileged … in public and in private, collectively and individually. Without substantive correctives on this, we would continue to be a Banana republic reporting and reading daily doses of gruesome acts of murders, rapes, ragging deaths, bullying, eve teasing, lewd looks and violative abuses.
The kind of eve teasing or unsavoury remarks (even if the target of comments is out of earshot) i see on the Indian roads is aweful. A feudal mindset …as if God has created their targets for the exclusive comfort of the commentator. The same thing is the base for rampant ragging on campuses (you accept my/our superiority and we will take you under our wings). Lewd looks and cheapness of comments is something unique to India – at least the market share it enjoys in this is far disproportionate to its population. As a society and more as Individuals we show the least sensitivity to others rights, conveniences, and dignity.
Our Hindi movies peddle eve teasing and molestations as Romance. The more bizarre the Gender abuse, the better the justification for concocted heroism and chances of coffers hitting high numbers. Tell me the last time we evaluated any cinema by the social changes that they helped bring about? But minute to minute updates on the amount grossed by each cinema are available on the internet. They have a decisive negative influence on our next generation and are my prime suspects for the increasing crimes against women.The worst of photo journalism in recent years is the wordrobe malfunction.
Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness
I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. True equality will be achieved only when people don’t even have to think about it. That I would say has been achieved in some East Asian Buddhist societies. In Vietnam, Bhutan and Myanmar there is such a high degree of respect for each other that its almost like there is only one sex where both recognise that they are designed to perform different biological functions and there is nothing more to it. I haven’t read or heard of any rapes or molestations in their societies, don’t see people teasing girls or women. During formal or informal dinners and sit ins, I see them cut even crasser jokes (enough to make me blush profusely) but its both ways. They get very explicit (like a girl about 27 years who i had known hardly for 90 secs till then once informed me that although she has a secure job and wealth she didn’t have assets in the right place and hence not able to get married). But its never with any sense of deriving cheap feudal satisfaction at being able to impose abuse and or inflict insult on the unfortunate recipients – present on the scene or otherwise: can’t be called ridicule by any stretch of imagination.
If I have to be born a woman, my top choice will be one of the Buddhist countries except perhaps Thailand if I should heed the advice of a friend who has lived there.
“Give up wants and expectations and embrace Happiness” seems to be the signature line of Buddhism. It settles a lot of modern distress including inter-gender friction, inter-age friction, and breeds responsible child care and public behaviour.
Probably our cultural fault lines as far as shoddy treatment of women is reflected in our great epics. One leading Epic (MB) starts with shaming a women. What is even more demeaning is that the very group we worship today put her as the bait for their bets. The other (R) is about a hijacked women. Again after all the trauma his wife goes through, the man finds it necessary to defend personal honour above her travails – honour before responsibility of providing life along expected lines. I refrain from further elaboration due to fear of hurting religious sentiments. I am aware that these Epics have a great lot of lessons to teach. I am aware that the Epics may not be actual (but there are too many evidences at various places in India to indicate otherwise) but a mere metaphor. Even if it is, the authors could have chosen a more sensitive story line. Sure even Greek Epics have Helen and Eurydice as the lead characters in their storyline. But as much as I have read it there is nothing crass or abusive about them.
The bogies about the Middle east
Much against prevailing wisdom, I would say that the next lesson in respectful treatment of women, children or underprivileged should be from the middle east Islamic countries. I know its not popular going by the image or false illusions that have been created by the media.
Four 4 marriages is the prime reason or target of attack as if that is where abuse starts and ends. Triple Talaks are the next reason, as if the Divorces these days take any longer in the West – just the decision on % share of spoils takes time in Courts but the physicality is as immediate as the time it takes to say Talaks in the Middle East. So who are we fooling? When the ratio of women to men develops as 4 : 1 due to internecine war between various nomadic societies or as in Vietnam when men were reduced to 65% of women due to the American War, social changes and marriage customs are bound to shape suitably. “1: 1 and let the rest go to hell” cannot be a responsible social answer. But whether such a ratio should be hard coded into religion or left to evolve with times may be a matter of debate.
Oman which has been rated as the Paradise on Earth by the Spice Jet in house travel magazine is exactly that. Although there is a slant of protection towards women there -be it in workplace or streets or I would reckon at home. But who is complaining? There is also a lot more sensitivity to treating their poor almost on socialistic lines than reliance on Fate or Karma have allowed our society. The serene face of women does not reveal any fault lines between gender or age.
Looking at some Syrian women and men and their serene faces can be an exercise in meditation by itself. Such serenity could only come out of inner beauty and happiness and peace with the World around, stability of relations, feeling of security around life. That this is my observation from my only trip there which was when the country was deeply in ‘Civil’ war should speak volumes. ( as I had cheekily written in one of my earlier posts, I would any day prefer Syrian type ‘Civil’ War to the ‘Uncivil’ violations against women in Delhi streets everyday and the mindless manner in which the Press tries to milk it).
The stories that my friends tell about the courtesies at home (much of the hosting of business courtesy lunches and Dinners take place at home, I am told) about Iran and Iraq makes me believe that women are treated like Queens within; only they have to wear their Hijabs outside their house. The patience of Indonesia is awesome.
Whether these countries alone are representative of muslim world may be questionable. But why do we have to bother with their religion? If there is something to learn, why not?
I wouldn’t want to mix up with the debates in India/South Asia.
Repeating myself I don’t subscribe to the Western notions of women’s rights and gender equality. The fight for right itself recognises someone else’ superiority. But if we were given that scale of Income and social realities where both spouses work, stability of jobs is not a reality and there is need for frequent job switches across cities or even countries, I am sure basic instincts will overpower our values and Culture and make us behave much the same way. With our lack of respect for rules and regulations and irreverent mindset, we might even evolve rather crudely. Future alone can tell.
I don’t think our Culture and Values alone will overcome human instincts.
Lets both teach and learn
It is not just biological differences, but several things else – race, colour, income, caste, etc … we let them become permanent handicaps right through one’s life term from birth rather than be accidental co-ordinates at birth after which one is free to develop on equal terms.
I know there are a zillion other things that make upthe Culture than just the way we treat Children, a great lot of society (not all) look at women, spit on the road, defecate, jump queues even ahead of elders, break road rules, jump signals, ask for bribes and accept them, confer favours on the undeserving or have no qualms in seeking them. I am sure India can be great on all those other things … but on these things we smell foul and are way below qualifying marks.
I reckon India should market its Yoga, Ayurveda, Epics, or other aspects of its culture more aggressively for its own benefit.
In substance and summary, the boasts about our culture seems a surrogate swagger or justification for our inability to progress, a failing attempt to hide our shortcomings. (I think so). People who are at the top and truly belong there don’t go about proclaiming that they are the best. (unlike Tyson or Md Ali). If we have something great to offer others will sure learn it from us given the ways of internet. If we find nothing great about the West, we don’t have to learn from them but there are others out there who can offer lessons. But even if we consider we are 80% perfect, lets learn the balance from the rest.
(PS: God has been kind to provide lots of travel opportunities to me but also appears to have imposed the responsibility to find out more about many who are not in any way connected the underlying business purpose. Pl pardon the offshoot boasts).
 As per official reports Netherlands and Czech republic (or is it just Amsterdam and Prague) have the highest divorce rate of 52%; the highest for the balance is 1/3rd. That is in 2012 or 13. May be we have made perverse progress by leaps and bounds since then.
We have recently started plantation activities in south western Myanmar – Ayyerwaddy state. We had to plant seedling and clones this rainy season. Typically for our plantation trees 1’x1’x1’ pits are ideal. Bigger ones are like babysitting your child till they are 35 years old – a sure way to spoil them. The roots should have it easy for the first few days and after that they should work towards fortifying their hold themselves – that’s when we get optimum results (or so I have been told). Continue reading
May 11, 2012
The Hindu BusinessLine
Representative democracy, unlike the Greek direct version from which it has evolved, has drifted far from its essential moorings. It is now largely a power of attorney for unknown actions.