Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Thought for Today

I tried telling my friend – I have decided to change myself. She asked – what’s new? Point taken – I keep saying that.

But I did change. I am increasingly becoming a glass-half-empty kind of a person. I sure was not this kind earlier. I am, after all, a salesman. Someone, who lives to believe in future, should not see anything but the half-full portion of the glass. Some salesmen go even further – they see only half the glass!

I am sure getting old. Becoming a grumpy old man! But I promised never to get old. So, my bitterness can’t be on account of my getting old. I am growing old because I am feeling bitter.

But am I really bitter? Well, that’s a theory my friend believes in. Well, I have started thinking of late, may be for the first time in my life. And, I am amused with a lot of things these days. Like, all this talk of democracy; all the seriousness of the politicians; all the pompousness of modern businesses; all the pretence of intellectuals; the whole feeling that the world has always been like this, and will be.

No, I must state my point. I am not bitter, but I am irritated. I always wondered why God spoke to Moses but wont do that with me. Well, with age and experience – I have now got an answer. God speaks to every one of us, all the time. There are people who strive to listen; and others, don’t – they are too busy with the noises, hustle and bustle of life. I think the world is getting noisier and noisier.

Old or not, I am trying to hear what God has to say. I am trying to mute the Sky TV, but don’t seem to have the remote control.

Monday, April 16, 2007

In search of optimism

So, when did Capitalism win its decisive victory? Well, if my weekly trash rag have to be believed, it happened some time between Ronald Reagan getting too old for B movies and George Bush deciding to spread democracy in Middle East.

This weekly rag is The Economist. I read this for last ten years - first because I loved its tone and optimism, then because it made me angry, and now because I have become an optimist by infection and waiting to see when the pundit editors of The Economist see reason.

Because, capitalism is not winning. Well, I dont want to appear a scarecrow, frustrated about life and bitter about everything. I want to believe in a glorious future of continuous prosperity. I am a believer, of man's ability to dream, create and deliver. As my boss - an house-owner and therefore an optimist - was recounting that doomsday predictions from the 1970s did not materialise, and people are indeed better off, I wanted to believe him.

However, capitalism is not winning. It is a great system for a world of plenty, for a growing world. But, it has very few answers for a maturing civilisation. One with limited resources. And, resources, whatever The Economist may preach, are not monetary. In a maturing civilisation, they are basic - water, air, food etc.

Capitalism is not losing the war in the fields of Iraq. It is just a symptom, a malady that will go away. The Economist seems to believe that the french are the last men standing against it, so they are devoting their cover stories to make the Frech voters see reason. They will. So, will millions of people in China, India and Africa - all will integrate themselves in the capitalist system.

But capitalism is losing the war here, in my room, on the street, over and underground. As civilisation matures, the strain on resources become unbearable. The system provide no controlled way of distribution. The biggest folly of the system is that it is selfish, it is short term. It has no solutions for a world where growth is no longer an option.

And, here is a proof that I am no socialist. I always believed Marx was a failed prophet, he was immature, he had this capitalist disease of being short term. I feel more like the French emperor, who knew the disaster will come, but his time would pass.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Good Reads

I came across this site - a site for people who read books and love to talk about them.

Great idea - latest in the social networking space - and I signed up immediately. Not only that, I sent out an invitation to almost everyone on my Google Address Book who read books.

Well, the idea may not work. It may turn out to be too tedious, as I felt while going through it, too much to write. Also, dont know whether people who read and love books also love spending time on the net - increasingly it sure will, but we are talking now. I mean, whether this transformation will happen before the money runs out, as they say!

But a good idea remains a good idea, and smart thinking, guys! I shall keep spreading the word and invite other people to sign up.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Khartoum, Gordon and Gladstone

When Gordon Brown stood up to present his 11th budget, he did not miss the occassion to remind the MPs that only one man before him - Gladstone - had the distinction of presenting eleven budgets. In fact, Gladstone did 12, but by the time he was doing his 11th, he was already the Prime Minister.

His intended audience, of course, was Tony Blair, who is supposed to retire end of June, and hand over the No. 10 to Gordon Brown. It may be a fairly short lease, as things are not looking good for Labour, and Gordon Brown must inject some new ideas and thoughts to lift its fortunes. However, so far, it is not looking so good.

Take Iraq, for example. Brown has said little what he will do with Iraq. Withdrawing may quickly become as big a disaster as staying on. It seems that withdrawing now will cede space to Iran, at a juncture when they are increasingly defiant and becoming a real risk.

Or, fiscal policies for example. If Brown did anything new in his budget, it was playing with trivia, and this budget was promptly dubbed as a '2p Budget' in the media. Not very helpful, I suppose! The other new idea was to try to turn Green, but so far the policy seems to be imposing taxes that affect people trying to live a normal modern life, than demonstrating any sincere intention to make a difference. Green taxes, fine - but where is the additional investment in transport which will make it easy for people to shun cars and airplanes? Where is the drive for renewable energy? Brown certainly does not want to present his 12th budget.

Also, another favourite parallel - now there is a problem in Khartoum, there is a Gordon who invokes Gladstone. I do believe that Sudan is becoming a huge embarassment, a clear evidence that the West does not care, and will undermine Western influence in Africa completely if this is allowed to go on. Along with Bush administration's ill-advised intervention in Somalia, the ongoing disaster in Sudan will further weaken the standing of Western powers in Africa. Not a good thing - as it seems that the next proxy war between superpowers will be fought on African soils.

Britain needs to take a stance, quickly, on Darfur. There is a genocide going on. Keeping hands off - a Gladstonian mistake - will brand Gordon Brown as the man who lost Africa. Besides, it will further emphasize the view that Anglo-Saxon powers only act on their commercial greed and self-interest, and the moral stand they always seem to talk about, is nothing.

So, Gordon Brown has a choice - between being Gordon and being Gladstone - on Sudan. Sadly, we almost know who he will intend to follow.

Monday, April 09, 2007


I had to learn, at different twists and turns in life, that everything must have a purpose. There is very little place in this crowded world, and among busy lives, for anything which does not have a purpose.

But, also I learnt in the journey, it is fairly easy to miss-read the purpose of things. Does Sun exist to warm up the earth, or keep it bound in an orbit? Or, less glamourously, is the business about making money or about making a difference? Do I exist to generate more carbon or to contribute?

The other issue about purpose is that it must change over time. Because the purpose is not inate in things, but it is what others, mostly people, find in it. Since societies and people change, the purpose of things must change.

I return to retail, as I must. For example, my grocer had a purpose to exist 20 years back - he was making available, under one roof, things that I needed to buy. That changed, since supermarkets invaded our lives. Sadly, the grocers still believe that they must exist for the same old purpose.

It seems our expectations, as consumers, change far faster than our habits as suppliers or producers. I see things changing in the booksellers' world. I do see a great future of specialist bookstores, who combine a great online and offline model, offer great value on books and create communities of customers.

But, well, how many do it? I was talking to the Finance Head of an upcoming retail store in Calcutta, and asked him how he intends to reward loyal clients. He said he believes the great collection and fine interiors will do the job. No online presence, I must add. No home deliveries. Well.. it has to be that purpose question I need to go back to, yet again.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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