Some Soft Stuff About Big Guns

  Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

Photo by AWSeebaran/iStock / Getty Images (Illustrative Image Only)

“We’ve checked with the hotel,” the key organiser said from the podium. “They have no plans to do a fire drill today. So if the alarm rings, it’s the real thing.”

Just a start-of-the-event routine, of course. Still, the announcement evoked light titter in dispersed pockets among the audience. People were in a good mood. We’d been served coffee and tea and good pastry while we waited for the hall doors to open, which they did at 09:00, as scheduled, accompanied by a tinkling bell to shepherd us — a uniformly dark-suited lot — into the large, swank hall. The host was a British company with operations in England and America and the Middle East and Australia. An old reputation for punctuality was at stake.

The company has been active in India since times when the nation was a British dominion. This important fact was given us by the CEO (an Indian) of the company’s Indian operations, whose father once commanded the sole aircraft carrier in the Indian Navy. When a boy, the CEO has played many times on the deck of that aircraft carrier. Being raised like that has done things to him: He was confident like hell, with a chest to match which he held out, and impressive height, and slicked-back hair — plus, in his stance, a faint whiff of the warrior.

He had two massive displays of that venerable vessel behind him — pasted on PowerPoint, one image on either side of him. I don't know about the others in the hall, but, coming as I do from small-town India, I envied him his boyhood playground.

Through a crisp presentation, the CEO detailed the history of the company’s involvement with India: supporting the defences of Kolkata at the start, through the Wars afterwards, and as a supplier of field guns and combat-aircraft and trainer aircraft to independent India. Now the company aims to win market share against the increased competition of today. To win Indian business, it needs to mandatorily demonstrate a commitment to developing Indian suppliers, and do its own manufacturing in India.

We were suppliers attending the conference. They were top-management folks engaged in procurement. Through speeches and videos, they told us what a good thing it is to be their supplier; senior guy after very-senior guy spoke and congratulated us for being invited to the party.

To prove the point, they brought on stage the CEO of an Indian company that has already started supplies to them. This man was an officer in the Indian Army who resigned and joined the corporate world, bringing along a straight back, a stiff neck, and a marching gait. “It has been a great experience, I tell you,” he glowed. “We received the ultimate compliment from them. During the recent exercises, they fired our missiles from their guns.”

Having taken the stage, the soldier had made it his post, and he wouldn’t leave it. On and on he spoke of his experience with this customer. “You see, they didn’t teach us how to make a product,” he said. “They taught us to build systems. Really, I tell you, these people changed my life. I have learnt so much from them.” For good measure, he spoke the lines again.

I might have imagined it, but I think I saw a squirm left of me, a shift of posture on the right of me, and surely there was a repeat, and still, the soldier spoke on, clearly beyond time given him, and when he finished he didn’t appear satisfied. He seemed pained, like he felt far more praise was due than he’d given.

I saw him later, speaking to little groups at lunchtime, working hard to do justice to what he’d received from his host. He reminded me of some elders in my childhood who swore that the cure for India’s ills was to bring the English back, to give them whole our country. The English would whip us into discipline. They’d teach us the basics we lacked.

That was last week. I’m back now, working with my folks, like the other suppliers who would be working with their folks, to win, to qualify to work with this company and participate in making big, killer guns in India.

Good thing? You tell me.

Indian Manufacturing: Time to teach? To learn?

The visitor, the CEO of a public sector agency, was impressed with the plant. He said so, after we returned to the meeting room. I told him in return: “Everything we know we learnt from our customers.” The man paused. “We should stop admiring foreigners so much,” he chided the air about him. Ours is a 100% exporting company—if you’ll overlook that two customers, only two, are Indian plants of American companies. “The time has come for Indians to teach the world,” he said, powdering a coconut cookie over the glass bowl before him. He dropped a nibble-size bit of the cookie in his mouth and rested his eyes on mine. I remained silent.

“Really?” I had wanted to ask. But business is quite often the art of asking your ego to help zipper your courage.

They aren't idle as one might imagine, those who have lost in the last two decades a bit of the action in manufacturing—not in the the US, not in the Eurozone, not in Japan, and not in Japan’s neighborhood. In the US in this year they have begun to sum the costs of outsourcing manufacturing, scraping and unraveling costs that were buried in other accounts, and they have discovered that Americans could have lost in their outsourcing expeditions. In the same time, they have developed software for DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly) through which they can increase productivity so steeply that when the software is applied for the same part simultaneously in China and the US, the savings lose flesh and lose all allure. After that exercise, the guys have added the costs of logistics and defects-management, and they have come up with red, red numbers which they are going around with, showing them to folks. One of them who is catching attention with red numbers that he found himself is David Meeker, lecturer at MIT.

Already, some large corporations have brought some production back home to the US. NCR, GE, and Honeywell are visible examples and their experience has a new B-word raring to replace Bangalored, and that word is backshoring. And, though these teachers and executives have such exciting news, they aren’t crowing yet, they are at the moment merely presenting papers and pondering next moves. However, they have generated enough interest among enough manufacturers to make a reverse surge a (for Asians) worrisome possibility. For garnish for backshoring, there are the rising labor costs of China, and labor shortages, and uncertainty in foreign exchange rates, and, for large corporations, the ever-present dangers arising from poor treatment of workmen. Now add to the list the nagging fear of the threat to intellectual property.

Click through to "10 factories that changed the world"The first major mass-production hub was probably Venice, which produced a ship a day in its heyday, so as to rule the trade routes during renaissance in the 16th century. Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries the Industrial Revolution brought big manufacturing to Britain, and the entire western world.  In America's turn men like Henry Ford contributed great innovations in mass-manufacturing. Right after, Japanese entrepreneurs with enviable zeal went to America and brought back American folks (Deming, in the main) who taught them to use statistical techniques to secure near-zero defects in product quality. Homegrown Japanese thinkers like Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno figured out the flows that yield low cost and high value. Some distance away the Taiwanese did the same more cheaply. While Americans pondered their failings, wealth found favor with a Maoist communist and China became the site for every advanced nation's larger factories—Japanese and European, Taiwanese and American. Now when the battle for manufacturing dominance has been, it so certainly seems, lost to China, the Americans appear to be coming up with new ideas, which the stories of NCR and GE and Honeywell suggest. In sum, manufacturing moves in and out and back into places where there is a constant interest to learn, and to innovate.

Even as Americans were struggling against Japan, American professors and businessmen and writers in search of a story went to Japan to learn. Some like Liker embedded themselves in places like the Toyota Motor Company and observed everything with the fresh eyes of interns. What men like Liker saw, they came back and described to Americans across the nation, through public and private talks and bestselling books. What they had seen were the fruits of the labor of men like Taiichi Ohno, who, through relentless reflection and minute observation built the Toyota Production System, which system is a Standard Operating Procedure in the rest of the world today. So, now as China pauses at a peak, America mulls a newfound opportunity to reclaim the game.

That is the question with which I gazed at the elderly man seated across me in my meeting room. Why this tearing hurry to teach? When we have a pressing need to learn? Who is India’s Ohno? Who is India’s Deming? Who among us has in this moment earned the right to teach the world? I ask these questions not with the doubtfulness of a pessimist, or as one who doubts the capabilities of our nation. I merely submit that we will serve our nation better through learning with even increased vigor, from the long list of teachers available around the world.

There is greater prestige in being a student. As a person or as a nation. Now and always.

an affordable approach to Business Excellence

I’d like to post some short notes from my work once in a while from now on.

My company could be called mid-sized. Which means we are a reasonable number of professionals, with a reasonable depth of resources—enough to aspire for growth, but lacking resources that we’d like for some other things we’d like to do.

For generating the knowhow for achieving Business Excellence, for instance. To create a toolkit for it.

Some years ago, we decided that the best approach to meet expectations of all stakeholders is Lean Manufacturing. The practice of lean manufacturing achieves for you a dramatically reduced cost while securing quality and delivery reliability, which leads to increased customer satisfaction, and hence more business, and more profits—which lead to stakeholder satisfaction all round. But how do we implement Lean Manufacturing? We went about doing what we could afford: we read Liker and Womack in group sessions, which was a good exercise, because it increased our understanding of the subject, and reinforced its indisputable usefulness, but in spite of the practical advise in the books we were taking too long to devise a set of tools and an overarching approach to implement and sustain Lean Manufacturing.

Sometime then, United Technologies became our customer. They are a Fortune 500 company, and a committed practioner of Lean. To perfect their understanding and practice of Lean, they established long ago a learning center—the Ito University, founded by a Japanese professional, the late Ito—which evolved an operating system based on Lean Manufacturing which UTC has named ACE, or Achieving Competitive Excellence. UTC share the ACE technique with those suppliers who are willing to learn it.

We decided: Abandon all other initiatives: If UTC have poured millions of dollars into ACE, and if great minds are constantly evolving ACE toward perfection and, as we have seen, if ACE has created fine manufacturing units for UTC all round the world, and if UTC are willing to teach us the technique, then let’s put all our faith in ACE and strive to surpass UTC factories. More than two years have passed since we took that decision, and our faith in ACE has grown. We are not yet near our goal: UTC call their best practitioners of ACE as their ACE Gold Sites, and we are some distance from being as good as the Gold Sites, but we are winners of the UTC Supplier Gold—the first manufacturer in India, 92nd in the world. That puts us at least on square one, or maybe some squares ahead, and it has surely put us on a speedy path to Lean.

They say that if you terribly want to do something, and you are desperately seeking someone who'll show you the way, then in time a guru will appear. In business, the guru is quite often the customer. If you have taken care to win the very best customers, you are set to find the greatest guru.


See also: Ramadorai at the UTC Annual Supplier Conference, New Delhi, 9-Nov-2011.

some gloom, some sun, and the sound of music

 Coffee Day Square

Coffee Day Square

The stone-block men and the stone-block lad are clothed for Siberia and a couple of them hold umbrellas over themselves, and clutch some baggage each. They, and their umbrella, and their baggage, and their demeanor, are all gray and mysterious, and utterly alien. During the workday a fountain rises low and falls upon them, but when I pass them before eight they are cooled only by the morning breeze in the relative open where Cubbon Park ends and UB City begins. The other day a tramp sat in an asana there with the light flitting on his face, before Cafe Coffee Day, and the breeze blew his long beard here and there and he was abuzz with the energy of the morning that flowed about him and into him, and he guffawed at every rider who went round the bend before him. He spoke out loud, yet none could hear, and he tried to connect with the traffic, rising on his haunches, and almost none saw him, and none laughed back in greeting, and none took heed to see the hilarity in the morning, in life under that smothered sun, in our rush through the curdling smog, in our concentrated frowns, in the beginnings of the frenetic Bangalorean week.

 Hical Technologies at Electronica Bangalore

Hical Technologies at Electronica Bangalore

Hical stall at Electronica, BangaloreDuring the week we participated in Electronica, advertised as the largest electronics fair in India, even if it was in only two smallish halls when compared with the seven or nine gigantic halls in the parent fair which goes by the same name in Munich. But the action in those two halls revealed the growing electronics business in India. We did well, but when the fair drew to a close I worried if others did better. And when I left our stall to see how others were doing, when I came to the stalls of the machine manufacturers, I gawked at the new models, and sensed a recently receded emotion reappear. Machines depress me, and the more they can mint the more they appall me, like when I see in the west the highways which arrive into giant clovers and go hurling over one another and twist and fall and speed away to everywhere.


Linkin Park, Minutes to MidnightThe week was saved because of The Clash: I listened to London Calling, and delighted in the exuberant vocals whose boyishness is accentuated by their blocked-nose voices. London Calling! The Right Profile! I loved the album so much. I’m going to Germany this month-end and to London thereafter, and today I bought a ticket for a show for Lennon in Liverpool, on 8-October, the eve of his 70th birth anniversary. I told Yashas I will also attend in Germany a Linkin Park concert, and he laughed for so long. “They’re not for you, daddy” he cried, “my friends will never believe my father likes Linkin Park!” I put off the purchase of that ticket and bought another, for Leonard Cohen’s concert in Stuttgart.

But I’m listening to Minutes to Midnight as I write this, on this weekend evening, and I cannot understand why Yashas thinks Linkin Park aren’t the rock band for me. They’re as foreign to me as any other rock group, but I’m swaying and rocking and nodding while I delete one word, and throw back my head to think up another.

notions of immortality

The walls come down the hill like two aged arms of the young Fort Canning Centre. People were shooting the Canning Centre, and the two plain two-hundred year old cupolas built by the architect Coleman, and the greens between the walls—with small and large cameras. None came up to the two old walls to see the tombstones embedded in them, mostly of Europeans—young men and women, some too young, and the old not very old. They have died in the first half of the nineteenth century, faced with a low life-expectancy, like Thomas Henry, Assistant Surgeon, remembered on these walls and who, at 22, has died well ahead of others whose lives he should have improved, or saved. Fort Canning Wall Cemetery I saw the walls the day after the Chinese New Year’s Day of the Year of the Tiger. The day before, a rock band performed on the greens between these cemetery walls. They removed the props and the chairs and the dismantled stage while I read Alain de Botton’s book on The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in the pavilion by the entrance. On the front of this Canning Centre is the gate of Canning Fort, and shortly down a bend from it is a remnant of the old fort wall. They speak modestly of this rather modest wall and gate, built in 1859, when the English in all their dominions felt the tremors of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in India; here in Singapore they built this shelter for protection against potential local trouble. The smallest Indian fort will laugh derisively at this baby-fort, but who worries for Singapore’s scant history when in its present it shines to the envy of most others? Just beyond the reach of the old arms of Canning Centre are the Singapore Management University and the Singapore National Museum. The museum is celebrating some other dead, with relics from distant Egypt, on loan from Vienna until April. The displays are from the Old Kingdom five millennium ago, through to Ptolemaic times. Whereas the tombstones of the dead Europeans lacked visitors this holiday, the response to this “Quest for Immortality” (as the museum calls the Egyptian gallery) has surprised the museum officials. I stood in line for an hour, and for another hour I craned over others’ heads and bent and twisted into gaps between people to read the legends and to catch a glimpse of the relics. Singapore National Museum People clicked more than they saw; even the legends they clicked, as though the right plan is to gather everything into digital memory and to view them later somewhere. So the remains of royals and nobles and commoners were digitized with great energy by common people armed with gadgets the ancients couldn’t have dreamed possible, and, in a way, the quest of the ancients for immortality was meeting with success, but in a way that I’m not sure they’d desired. The men and women who became mummies would have known that their brains would be sucked out from their nostrils and discarded, but their liver and lung and other organs would be sealed in separate jars and would sit in the company of their mummy. Did they relish the thought of being immortal in that fashion? I have been walking long distances, saying no to the taxi, enjoying the flora of this city. And I watched Avatar, and it seemed right to watch that movie in this city where the trees are like those in the film, if not in size and grandeur then at least in variety and complexity. Every morning at breakfast I look out to the trees and an embankment and higher trees above it, and the scene seems to have been created just to make this window perfect. But, after gazing through the window for a while, the trees begin to suggest the jungle this island has been, which now is no more a jungle, but is surely the loveliest of parks. Speaking of Avatar again, if you consider that the word is of Indian origin, then consider that the gods came down in various avatars to settle matters with men, often with such men who’d gotten out of hand. Sometimes the avatar played mischief with man, but always to a good purpose in the end. Here in Avatar are men playing gods with the Navi people on planet Pandora and, when the film ends, the chief avatar helps the Navi to not accept tragedy from the hands of men. This morning I saw an artwork in the Singapore Art Museum, by Ringo Bunoan who lost his mother on 1-June-1986 and sublimated his private tragedy, his “remembrance, loss, and sorrow,” through looking up another eight persons who had died the same day as his mother. His mother is depicted by four clean white pillows with a photograph of her memorial on each, and the other eight are identical pillows differentiated by a picture on top of each person’s memorial, and the total of twelve pillows are laid clockwise to communicate all things that life, time, and death mean. A Singaporean teenager standing next to me said the thing “looks eery.” I tried to find my emotion and name it, for I was born on a first-of-June.
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when I was red…

An item today in The Hindu suggests the way to laughter, which is to look beyond anger to the absurdity of the situation. I glanced at the story and read only the big-lettered nut graf on my way to work and forgot all about the idea when we entered the gate, where, for two months and a half there is the sore sight of workmen on strike, and from yesterday the scene punches the gut, the unbearable vision of unwashed men on a relay hunger strike, and their unwashed cohorts who have slept there overnight. My anger against those that have misled them, and have them still in their thrall, dried up many days ago. They want me to talk to them, and their request they have sent to the newspapers and to the television channels, but not to me. A young man came with a TV camera today, himself the reporter, himself the cameraman. He spent good time outside with the workmen and his mind was made up before he entered the factory. “Can you not speak with them? On humanitarian grounds? How can you allow a hundred and seventy workmen to sit outside?” When the HR Manager came to me and told me these questions that the young man had asked him, I remembered my own youth and my strong belief then, which I don't remember whence it came, that only the devil begat businessmen. He left schlepping his camera and I wondered if I should call him and talk to him myself, and repeat to him that we've been beseeching them every day for seventy days to come in and work; that a matter gone to court is a matter abandoned to its time; that it is not done to press for the recall of workmen dismissed on disciplinary grounds. The things I composed for him sounded awful in my mind, and I decided to let him go, to allow him to indulge in the romance of outrage at capitalists and exploitation and at the oppression of the working classes. Then I cursed the owner of the news channel who is himself a businessman, and a politician, and I asked myself how his channel can send a kid to cover something of which he cannot see all dimensions. But the boy has stirred remembrances, of when my tilt was toward red too, when my gear was meager, a ten-cent pen and a rough-woven kurta that fell below my knees and let the sun and the wind of Mysore and Manasa Gangothri through to my skin. Now in the evening I'm writing these notes and I'm thinking how I'd have enjoyed it in my time on the campus, if I'd had that boy’s large camera, and his freedom, and his access, and businessmen like me to make a mess of.
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back to being Rip…

Photo: freeparking I'm reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Finding the Flow, along with Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind and Tim Robinson's Stones of Aran. All together: Wild Mind when I wake, Finding the Flow in the car, and Tim Robinson at bedtime. Alain de Botton's book on the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work arrived from Amazon yesterday, and I'll open it Monday, but in the meantime I'm considering reading a book I'd abandoned after thirty pages two years ago, Ray Croc's Grinding it Out. At that time I'd shut the book to open another, the Four Hour Workweek, and I'd even gone some distance with the advise I took from it, nursing a midlife crisis which departed recently, leaving me restored like after the flu. I've enjoyed my bouts of flu, having always fed them well. I fed this other flu well too, with every indulgence it asked for, and, as with every flu, I took Sujaya down with me. She didn't complain, but I've never looked so deep into her lovely eyes as to find there what I fear. She's human, and a good one. Last month I went to the Aravind Eye Hospital and its manufacturing arm, Aurolabs. They showed me a documentary on their founder, Dr.Venkataswamy. He died three years ago, aged 86, and until his last days he appeared for work every morning at seven. A month before I visited his hospital an incident occurred in my main factory which proved cathartic (I'm sorry to state it like in the horoscope columns). I should have gone down in that incident, but I seem to have fled upward. I'd figured a retirement would be good for me, and that I'd go see the world at my slow pace. I read Amitav Ghosh and went to Cambodia and to Mauritius and planned a visit to Egypt, and I watched Kurosawa and walked about Tokyo and Kyoto for two weeks. I wrote a bit and believed I should write much more and searched in Istanbul and Kandy and Colombo for the sense of how Pamuk and Ondaatje had let fall their minds on hometown. For twenty years I'd been sunk in my work, had been lost in its slumber, been a van-Winkle. When I woke three years ago and went loafing I thought it would be fun, but it seems better to go back to work, to be lost up there another twenty years, to being Rip again. This week in the office I used snatches of free time to progress a para at a time through Jim Collins' Good to Great, and finished today the chapter on Level 5 Leaders. In the evening I lingered a long time on that English poet's line, that there's plenty of sleep after the journey is done. You may know the poem: Reveille.
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the eye and Madurai

I spent an entire day at the Aravind Eye Hospital, founded by Dr. Venkataswamy thirty years ago, and which many say is the second great temple in Madurai. In the book From Here to Nirvana, which is a Lonely Planet kind of guide to ashrams and temples, the Aravind Hospital is one prominent destination. The first great temple, of course, is the temple of Meenakshi, the goddess with the fish-shaped eye, first built 2500 years ago and last rebuilt four centuries back. I spent the evening at the Meenakshi Temple, bemoaning that I’d only an hour to experience its splendor. But these notes are regarding Aravind. I stayed at Aravind's International Students Hostel, and met at breakfast the other inmates. They were management students from America doing a 10-day assignment at Aravind. Two among them were Indians, man and woman, and spoke with the born-in-America accent. I asked the young lady about her school: “We’re from a school called Wharton,” she said. “It’s in Philadelphia. Have you been in the US?” I was last in Philadelphia in September, and every time I crossed the river I had stared at it in disbelief, that all these wealthy people and mighty establishments have left so much water still flowing in it. The river of Madurai is Vaigai, and on the day I was there it was only a long wide bed of sand indifferent to the thin stream on it that hardly flowed. My companion assured me the water runs below the surface. He was being kind to the city, for, though the water is gone from their river, the good graces of the people overflow, which we saw everywhere: on the street, in the shops, on the restauranteur’s face, in the hostel, and most of all, in all whom we met at Aravind. Dr. V founded the hospital when he was 58, a clinic with only eleven beds. Now his hospitals are in six cities, and have hundreds of beds, and on the day of my visit they were treating 1600 patients in Madurai alone, and none of the patients had arrived with an appointment. No one takes an appointment; the poor don’t know such a thing. But the IT systems at Aravind can tell how many may check-in based on past data and the time of the year (holidays, school terms, festivals, the weather of the season). The forecast for the day was 1560. The patients may choose the paid service, or the free service, and in either case they receive first-rate treatment. Dr. V started the hospital on that premise: “I’ll first give you the best eye care. Pay me what you can. If you can’t, it is okay—pay me later.” He employed a proven method to secure profits, the McDonalds method to mass-produce in multiple locations without loss of quality. Aravind’s strength is excellence is ophthalmology, combined with systems for mass delivery—in multiple locations—of diagnosis and treatment. They charge very less; two-thirds of those treated do not (cannot) pay; and in this manner of the charitable organization Aravind still makes enough money to pay the bills and invest for growth. There is just enough room in each area of the hospital. No space is wasted. Each floor was built in answer to demand, and when money became available. On the computer terminals in every section the focus is always the same, to treat as many as possible as quickly as possible and to free the resources to take in even more. Every section can see on its screen how it is faring against the others. The focus serves both sides well: the patients need to go home quickly; the hospital needs to attend to everyone who came. And they don’t wish for less to come. They go out into the villages and fetch as many patients as they can find. Their mission, after all, is complete eradication of needless blindness, and 12 million Indians are blind this way, against the world’s 45 million. And they’ve improved this process every year. First they brought patients by bus and did the diagnosis and the treatment in the hospital. Now they perform diagnosis in the field using a satellite link to the hospital, and screen patients on the spot to determine who needs to come to the hospital, and who should be dealt with right away. In separate strategy-sessions they are generating new ideas so as to innovate and reach even more numbers. Aravind has performed the most number of eye surgeries in the world. Dr. V saw more opportunities to reduce cost and make eye care affordable for every one. The IOL, for instance: That invention, made in the west, was a great gift to humanity, but costing $200 (rupees 9400), it served only a portion of those who needed it. He asked: That lens looks no different than a shirt-button; why should it cost any more than ten rupees? Aravind established Aurolabs—a technology-development and manufacturing extension—to give substance to that question. They make affordable lenses that Aravind uses, and also export them to 80 countries. Besides the highly inexpensive rigid lenses, they also make foldable lenses for those who can afford them, but still at a lower cost. They’ve emerged a good manufacturer, and extended the range to produce surgical needles, and eyedrops, especially those too expensive outside, and drugs orphaned through being abandoned by pharmaceutical majors. The man who gave body to Dr. V’s vision is his brother, Srinivasan, who doesn’t credit himself for anything. He says Dr. V had a way of asking for more: “As you were saying,” Dr. V would tell Srinivasan who’d never said any such thing, “I think we should build a hospital in a new place.” Today, Srinivasan’s son Aravind is the administrator for the group. Aravind is himself an ophthalmologist, and a management graduate who has studied under C.H. Prahalad in America. An astonishing number of family members of Dr. V are the management (and doctors and administrators) of the hospital, and a transition from the old to the young seems to be in progress. I told Aravind, after the visit to Aurolabs, that I was moved by what I saw and began to explain, but he cut in to emphasize that Dr. V’s vision was in his own realm. Alarmed, I cut back in, and corrected myself, saying I was in Aravind to seek opportunities in Medical Electronics to diversify my own business. He was relieved, that I wasn’t going to begin a sentimental journey, and moved his hands quickly on the keyboard and the mouse, and pulled down possibilities, and mailed them to me the instant I asked for them. A young assistant interrupted us; she had a question for Dr. Aravind; but she was in a fluster for words; after she left I asked him his age—forty; but I’d supposed he was no more than thirty. I hope I’ve made a friend of him. He was so affable, and so helpful, and so willing to partner. Madurai Meenakshi Temple ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The picture at bottom is mine. Photos of Aravind Eye Hospital from their website, and of Madurai Meenakshi from Wikipedia. Read More

this foggy clear December

This December, as in every December, I approach Electronics City seeing the sun through the fog, and mistake it for a morning moon—I see it so absently. I wonder that the moon is so large, and after a while I realize there is no rabbit on it, and so it is the sun in its correct size. The fog is no more apparent when I enter my campus. The sun is out, and the leaves and the flowers and the lawn are all in a flutter, and the chill pinches just a little, a lover’s gentle pinch. How I love December. Something has changed this time, though. On the way to Hassan the sky is blue but not so clear. There is haze before the hills, whereas last December I could check off the rocks even in distant hills. But the drive is still good, in that disorienting golden light, and the mild chill. ******************** A bright idea is being given shape shape from October, when from wall after public wall cinema posters were removed and slogans of various busybodies were scraped out. A base paint covered the walls and on them paintings began to appear, of ruins of ancient monuments from across the state. The spaces among the ruins are the lounge of the tiger and the elephant and the peacock; and the stage for girls dancing Indian classical; and on the wide edges are the Om Beach with a man in bermudas, and three men crouched in a boat on water. They are painting thus every wall and rampart and underpass in a rush even as I write this, and this morning I was afraid the men may soon bring their ladder and brush and can of paint to the walls of my own home. Indeed, the entire city is being transformed into a travel brochure for Karnataka. There is a good part to this business, that it is awarded to poster artists, an absolutely splendid thing. I ask that they please offer some walls also to the Chitrakala Parishat so that we may see some imaginative art. I saw a wall on the way from Hudson Circle to Mission Road which bore simple floral murals on a terra cotta base which are designs of today, and are a reminder that the glorious culture of the past that our city-fathers are so besotted with has a shining young rival in the culture of the present, and it begs for some room. ******************** December is when the non-resident Indians come back to the extended family and hand down plentiful advise to the locals they encounter, whether the arrivals are minions from the foreign cubicle, or key executives, or brilliant professionals, or those from among the fired and the unemployed. I had my time yesterday with a big-corporation type who sought out financial ills that I might be afflicted with since we last met. He was frank and happy when he extracted an admission of a potential woe and today I am drained from having been on guard every moment I spent with him, from having to fend off his relentless dagger-sharp inquisition. Also, he was dunking my head into old questions which are a dead bore: regarding our inept politicians, our terrible infrastructure, our damn corruption—as though I’ve had some role in growing these Indian warts, and as though I have insight into them, and as though I should go out and excise them forthwith. But, of course, those questions aren’t so much for answers as for reassurance that the decision to migrate was life’s best decision. In that colorless conversation he told me his most serious news, that a certain famous American golfer who maintained fourteen illicit amorous liaisons is facing a California divorce. We drank good French wine: it kept us light and saved this friendship that we have, for until next December. -------------------- previous post, on the urban experience in Bangalore. Want to see the pictures of the urban art mentioned above? Read More

red in my head

sloganeeringThis week, on the treadmill, it has been The Who and Janis Joplin. It was Joplin today, and I finished my exertions to the tune of Ball 'n' Chain and her messianic advise to stay locked on today, to hang on to the moment. Zen. If I could do what she and zen ask I should feel better, so I'm trying to be present, but I'm also wondering which tomorrow will change these straits of today. Eleven days have passed since the strike in the main factory. Three workmen have come in and joined those who never went out. The supervisors and managers and other leaders are pitching in with their hands, the sum of them producing a fraction of the normal output. The rest are out at the gate, shouting in unison for justice that is rightfully due the company. They’ve been shouting abuses that I didn't think—for twenty-one years—they knew and used. And they've been whispering lies: regarding the purpose of the strike; regarding the procedures at the labor office; regarding the outcomes before the Deputy Labor Commissioner; and that the management is sending conciliatory messages. Money in lump sum has been mentioned and who hasn’t a problem for which a lump sum is the exact cure they’re praying for? With such falsehoods they've drawn the numbers of workmen they want, and they’re saying they'll sit at the gate for three or six or nine months. A good number of workmen are women, and some among them are the most spirited. They've called the media—the newspapers, the television channels. Early last week the TV channels arrived at the gate. We rushed our press releases to them. The channels carried the story the same night, and one of them took care to mention our version. The next morning, when we went through the gates, the shouts were the loudest of all days. That morning, in the distance, an arm came through the bars above the wall by the gate and twisted and shook when I walked from the factory to the cafeteria. My lawyer rued with me how far that defiance has gone: In Coimbatore, a few weeks ago, they killed the Chief of Human Resources of Pricol; in Chennai, the Managing Director of the Ballal chain of vegetarian restaurants was knifed in the kitchen by the cook who was also the union leader; in Tumkur fifteen union-hands beat up seven officers of the company; and the memory has not faded of the lynching with hammers and iron rods, of the CEO of Oerlikon Graziano in Noida, by a band of workmen protesting the dismissal of eleven colleagues for non-performance. We have dismissed thirteen, for instigating and leading two illegal strikes last year. Our people haven’t shown murderous intent, but I saw the flame in their eyes when I stood before them last week and they cried their slogans at me—fiery eyes that wouldn't look into mine. Two men came from the press midweek and spent time interviewing them and taking pictures. We brought the two inside and gave them the full story and sent with them the prints of our statements. The story is in the paper today. The photograph has women in the foreground, arms punching the air above, mouthing slogans, looking so wronged. The men are in the rear. The union president has issued a statement that the administrative staff has been harassing women, that the thirteen are wantonly dismissed, and that they have suffered sustained exploitation. Not a word is written of our side of the story in the paper, one of the oldest, among the most respected. I went through the hour of dismay that every such move from them causes me. Then I walked for an hour and my head cleared. My lawyer called from Bangkok where he has gone for a week and said it is alright, that I should focus on production and that he'd handle the rest. I floated back down to Sunday on that assurance. I'm good now, until the workmen strike me with their next idea. There is talk among them of shaving heads. I'm imagining how that would look. I will not laugh. I'd not imagined I'd be at war with them one day. Right now, I’m thinking I’ll abide by Janis Joplin and not peer toward far-off days. This Sunday seems quite fine for today. As regards this moment, I’m mixing Pearl Jam and Van Halen and Coldplay into playlists for the next trip on the treadmill. I’m also struggling with wishful outcomes that wiggle like worms in the mind; they’re clung to each other and won’t be shaken off. Read More