Saturday, January 24, 2015

The future is safe

Vijay Merchant is a name that may not be known to today's younger generation. Vijay Madhavji Merchant nee Vijay Madhavji Thakersey was born in the rich family that owned the Thakersey group of textile mills.  He is even today considered as one of the best opening batsman in Cricket that India has ever produced, notwithstanding the well-known exploits of illustrious names like Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag.  He may be a dwarf in terms of statistics, for a generation that knows players who have played more than 150 Test matches.  In a career spanning 18 years between 1933-1951, he played only 10 test matches.  All of them were against England and he scored only 859 runs with three centuries at an average of 47.72.  His best years of cricket were consumed by World War II.  His first class record is excellent; with an average of 71.64 it was second only to Sir Don Bradman.  In 47 Ranji Trophy matches he averaged 98.75, which is again a Bradman-like average.  He played in an era of uncovered pitches unlike today and yet had the capacity to work for his runs.  His sound technique, wonderful temperament and powers of concentration for long tenures at the crease won him many admirers.  He was the oldest cricketer to score a century at 40 years, a masterful 154 against England in his last test in 1952.  When he retired after that match, press reporters asked him why he had retired when still in good form.  He replied, "It is better to retire when you ask why, rather than when you ask why not"! He was admired by his English opponents to such an extent that C B Fry is reported to have said, "Let us paint him white and take him with us to the Australian tour as our opening batsman".

Vijay Merchant was also a great human being.  He refused to go on the England tour in 1932 since many leaders of the freedom movement, including Mahatma Gandhi, were jailed at that time.  He went as a member of the team in the next series in 1936 as the jailed leaders were released by then. He raised funds for the families of his team mates who died young.  He worked for the cause of handicapped persons. Above all, he was forward looking and believed in the next generation.  He is better known for his "casting vote" as Chairman of the selection committee in its meeting of 1970 when he voted for Ajit Wadekar as the captain of the team in place of Nawab of Pataudi, Mansoor Ali Khan.  There are many versions of this episode, but the ultimate result was that a new leader was given charge. The new captain and emergence of Gavaskar, G R Viswanath and others ensured victories for the team in West indies and England.

What is the relevance of Vijay Merchant now?  There was a debate competition last week on a subject relating to Banking Industry.  The topic of the debate was "The future of Banking Industry is not safe in the hands of the next generation". The debate itself was conducted in a novel way; the participants did not know whether they were speaking for the subject or against it till the start of the debate. Participants on both sides presented deep and well analyzed arguments.  Among the forceful points for the subject were the following:
  • The new generation has no patience; they lack discipline and look for quick promotions and higher earnings.
  • Their morals and ethics are questionable.
  • They are not taking up banking job because they love it; they have come here because they did not get any other job.
  • Even while working in the industry, they are looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
  • They are too inexperienced to handle higher and more responsible jobs in the industry.
  • They lack dedication and commitment to serve the deprived sections of the society.
Equally forceful arguments were presented by the other side.  Some of them were:
  • You show patience when you cannot do anything worthwhile; Action is required now and not patience and waiting.
  • Working in the industry teaches moral values and ethics.  Let us not be pre-judged.
  • Youngsters look for available jobs.  What is wrong with it?
  • There is nothing wrong in looking for better jobs or higher remuneration. Times have now changed.  Age old rules cannot be applied today.
  • Experience comes by working and learning.  Today's generation learns faster than the earlier generation.
  • Dedication and commitment to serve is a matter of policy and driven by the society. Let them be given the opportunity first.
Another important issue was "Use and assimilation of technology".  There was near unanimity on this aspect and the feeling was that the next generation will handle this part better than the previous one.

A similar debate was going on forty years ago.  That such a debate did take place in many places at that time is not well known because media was not this active and sharing of information was slow and of low key.  Even at that time, old timers felt that the new generation was unable to handle the needs of industry. They anticipated turbulent times for the industry after nationalization.  The challenges were no doubt plenty, but the next generation met them squarely and boldly.  They changed the very complexion of banking. The funny thing is, that very generation is now raising the same question about their next generation! 

This reminds me a story that I read some thirty years ago.  A Post Master in a Head Post Office was due for retirement.  He was very much concerned about the working of the post office after his retirement.  He prepared a detailed chart for each one of his key subordinates on the tasks to be done.  On the last day of his stay at office, he handed over the lists to each of them and repeatedly told them about the importance of those tasks. They assured him that they will take care of them and he need not worry.  After the farewell function he went home but could not sleep. He was worried what would happen to the post office next day when he was not there. He got up early, had his quick breakfast and went to the office as usual on the next day morning.  He was greeted by some and others were too busy.  He sat on a chair outside the counter and observed the office till evening.  Things seemed to be going fine.  He repeated this for the next two days.  On the third day, nobody even noticed his presence.  Post office was was working as usual.  He was neither missed inside the office nor was his presence on the outside felt.  He realized his folly and returned home from the Post Office, for one last time.

Old order has to change and make way for the new. This should happen at regular intervals. There is no use in worrying about the capacity of the next generation to manage the change.  As they say, "Time and tide wait for none". 

During the last years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's tenure as Prime Minister, there was a lot of speculation about the next leader of the country.  "After Nehru, who?" was a very big question and was hotly debated.  A few months before his death, Pandit Nehru arrived in Bangalore airport.  Press reporters asked him the same question.  "After Nehru, who?".  Pandit Nehru smiled and replied, "Do not worry about it.  The genius of India will find its leader". 

We can also be assured that the future of "Indian Banking Industry" is safe.  The genius of the country will find its future bankers.  Let the old generation learn from the Post Master and quit worrying. Life goes on and on.........    

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thank you, for the service!

It was a cold winter night on 13th December 2014.  Oumar Maiga was working in the late night shift for "Freedom Taxi" company during the holidays and slowly driving his taxi, near Market Street & South 2nd Street in downtown Philadelphia, PA, USA.  He stopped and picked up a fare at 01.33.33 AM EDT.  The person hiring the taxi got down at Race Street North.  Total distance traveled was less than a mile and the journey took less than two minutes. During the short journey, the passenger casually enquired of Oumar Maiga, "how was the night?". Maiga replied that it was a little hectic, but not bad.  The passenger said he would make it a great night. Actual fare payable for the trip was 4 US dollars and 31 cents. The passenger paid for the trip with his credit card. When Oumar Maiga saw the charge slip, he was amazed.  "You probably made a mistake, Sir" he said repeatedly. The passenger said that there was no mistake and the amount paid was deliberate.  "I know what I did.  I appreciate how professional you and your cab were and I wish to give you an enormous tip before wishing you Good Night", said the passenger as he walked away.  Oumar Maiga did not believe the tip until the amount was actually credited to his account.  The amount of tip for the trip costing 4.31 US Dollars was an unbelievable 989.98 US Dollars!  To put things in perspective, the amount of tip was an astounding 22,969 per cent!!  There was no better way of appreciating a service rendered, indeed.  Freedom Taxi co-owner Everett M Abitbol said that this episode could not have happened to a better guy than Oumar Maiga.

A month later, on Thursday, 15th January 2015, a Pizza was delivered by one Rob to a group of real estate agents at a meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.  He got a tip in the form of a package comprising of a 2,084 US Dollar tip, a visa gift card, lottery tickets and letters of encouragement.  This tip was also some 21,000 per cent of the bill value! The participants at the Regional conference of Keller Williams county said they wanted to show their appreciation from the service industry.  Rob could not believe the tip and exclaimed, "All I did was to deliver a Pizza!".  If he wins a prize on the lottery tickets, the tip percentage could go much higher.
*****

Tips is a small present of money given directly to someone for performing a service or menial task; it is a gratuitous payment that is given voluntarily by the one receiving the service.  Some also say that it is acronym for "To Impart Prompt Service".  It is usually given to workers in service sector.  Government employees are not supposed to receive tips as it can be termed as "bribe".  Ideally, the service provided should be without expecting any tips; there should not be any difference in the quality of service rendered between the one giving a tip and another who does not give any tips.  Some establishments have the practice of pooling all the tips received from the customers and dividing it equally among all the workers.  The amount of tip given depends on the local practices and customs.  Ten percent of the bill amount is considered as a fair tip in many countries, while in some other countries twenty percent is considered as the norm.  In some countries, notably Japan, giving a tip is considered as insulting!  Tourists have this problem of knowing what should be the amount of tip that should be given.  Most of the tourist guide books and travel agent brochures make it a point to indicate the tipping pattern in different locations.


*****

There are many interesting anecdotes about tipping.  John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937) once held a meeting of his senior employees in a hotel.  The service given by the hotel staff was awful and very unsatisfactory.  When the bill was presented, JDR left a tip of 100 dollars.  The hotel staff were shocked when they saw the amount of the tip.  He had another meeting in the same hotel on the next day.  This time the service was lightening fast and unbelievably wonderful.  JDR left a tip of one dollar.  He told the service staff, "The tip I left yesterday is for today's service.  What is given today is for yesterday's service".  There is no wonder he was one of the most astute businessman of his times! 

There are many anecdotes about John D Rockefeller.  Once he went to a hotel and asked for a room with a bath.  Hotel manager was surprised.  He said that when Rockefeller's sons came to the hotel, they always took presidential suites. Rockefeller calmly replied, "They have a rich father.  I don't".


*****

The above types of anecdotes are attributed to different personalities and sometimes one wonders which one is correct.  There is a "Quote Investigator" that explores the origin of such quotations and anecdotes.  

One of the most famous quotation is mentioned as belonging to John D Rockefeller, J P Morgan and Henry Poor.  The story runs thus:

A worried looking young man approached the dignitary and wanted some tips (not the tip discussed earlier!) about movement of stock markets.  The veteran thought for a moment and replied, "Young man, I believe the market will fluctuate".  This was one of the perfect prediction about the markets!

Quote Investigator investigated this story and found that the story was mentioned in the pages of Wall Street Journal of October 1922, as belonging to Henry Varnum Poor, the founder of Standard & Poor's.   The funny side of it is that Poor had died in 1905, seventeen years before the article was published!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Five sacred duties of an Administrator

On-line dictionary defines a "King" as "a male sovereign or monarch, a man who holds by tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and its people". There were ages in the past when many parts of the world were ruled by such Kings, whose position and status was derived by their birth in the royal lineage.  Their authority was widely accepted and the subjects treated them as an incarnation of the God and showed all deference such a thought deserved. There were indeed Kings who behaved as feudal lords and cared little for the feelings of the masses.  But history has recorded the governance by many Kings as even better than modern democracies.  The corner stone of their rule was respect and response to the voice of the ruled. In course of time, Kings were replaced by democratically elected leaders in most parts of the world.  Even where Kings or Queens still exist, they are mere figureheads and the real authority rests with the elected representatives.

There have been many ancient and recent texts and manuals in different languages and regions that provide insight into the various duties of such Kings. Written or unwritten constitutions form the basis of such guiding principles in today's world. When the Kings were replaced by elected representatives, it naturally followed that such representatives were required to perform the duties of erstwhile Kings. Democratic setups have also provided for various functional levels that are manned by either elected or designated persons or employees.  Advent of private enterprises employing large number of men and women have also created similar positions in various organizations that require administration for achieving their respective goals.  Though persons in these positions are not required to follow all the tenets of administration by the Kings or their equals in a democratic set up, those relating to their restricted sphere of actions and initiatives are to be meticulously followed. This is required to ensure order and equity in their dealings and to maintain the confidence of subordinates in their functioning within their set up.

One of the ancient texts that codify such guiding principles is Kautilya's "Arthashastra". Vishnu Gupta, also known as Kautilya (the one born in Kutila Gotra) or Chanakya (the son of Chanaka) lived in 4th century BC, two thousand four hundred years ago. He was a teacher, philosopher and strategist. He was originally a professor of economics and political science in the ancient university at Takshashila.  He was instrumental in founding of the Maurya dynasty in the Magadha area in present Bihar.  His Artha Shastra contains many of his own ideas as well as a compilation of various ideas that existed at that time.  One of the verses, originally credited to Atri Samhita, defines the five sacred duties of a King:

दुष्टस्य दण्डः सुजनस्य पूजा न्यायेन कोशेन च संप्रवृद्धिः |
अपक्षपतोर्थिषु राष्ट्ररक्षा पञ्चैव यज्ञाः कथिता नृपाणां ||

"duShTasya daNDah sujanasya pUjA nyAyEna koshEna cha saMpravrddhih
apakshapAtOrthiShu rAShTrarakshA panchaiva yajnAh kathitA nrpANAm "

What are these five sacred duties?  What is their importance in administration? Why are they called sacred duties?   Why they should be followed meticulously?  What are the repercussions of their non-following?  What is their relevance in today's world?  These questions deserve some consideration by administrators as well as those administered by them. 

The five duties defined and prescribed for a king or administrator are:
  • Punishing the "Guilty".
  • Protection of the law abiding and righteous persons.
  • Increasing the royal treasures by fair means. (Not by hook or crook!)
  • Non-discrimination between subjects seeking justice.
  • Protection of the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
A cursory look at these five duties itself gives a clue to their importance in administration. The duties enumerated reveal that they form the foundations of a good administration. Protection of the territorial integrity of the area ruled provides political stability. Sound finances gives economic stability for growth and well-being of the subjects. Proper dispensation of justice without fear or favor ensures social harmony. These are fundamental requirements and features of an effective and popular administration. It is to be noted that three of the five duties are directly related to the administration of justice. While punishing the guilty and protecting the law-abiding are inter-related, the third one of non-discrimination between subjects in the process of administering justice forms the core of the internal stability of the area ruled.  Many texts and manuals have repeatedly pronounced that the failure of the rulers in these duties result in collapse of the administration itself. 

What is sacred about these duties?  It is to be remembered that the word used for these duties is "Yagnas" and not "Karma".  These duties are to be performed with utmost diligence and sanctity; in the manner of performing a sacred ritual and not as a routine or mundane action.   They are called sacred duties because the purpose and direction of administration is determined by their being followed or neglected.  There cannot be any half-hearted measures or explanation of substantial compliance; it has to be absolute and total.  They are sacred since their non-performance is equivalent to abdication of the throne or position.

The repercussions of their non-following automatically answers the question of the need for their being met religiously.  The biggest threat for any state or organization is not from the external enemies.  A dissatisfied group of the subjects is the biggest threat for any state or organization. Ensuring dispensation of justice with equity and impartiality is the first requirement of avoiding dissatisfaction setting into the people's minds and those administered.  The two components of impartial dispensation of justice are punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent; they are inseparable and are two faces of the same coin.  Failure to do any of these two tends to flame the fangs of dissatisfaction.

These guiding principles are relevant even today.  They have their impact in private organizations as well as these organizations have tremendous impact on the society. Quasi-judicial authorities in organizations would do well to remember these tenets of sacred duties. Punishing the guilty is sometimes viewed in isolation and extreme leniency is shown to them, in the name of being a part of humanitarian approach. Extraneous considerations are given undue weight in deciding the punishment and often violate the written code based on which justice is expected to be administered. The matter of imposing prescribed punishment as per the written code or waiving it is not a matter between the quasi-judicial authority and the guilty.  It also has equal concerns with the other law-abiding multitude watching from a distance.  Failure to stick to the written code will embolden the others to venture into delinquency.  In due course of time, administration loses its moral authority, direction and control.  In case the written codes are felt to be unduly harsh, the solution lies in moderating them.  Not in diluting and violating them when they are still in black and white.              

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pythagoras or Baudhayana?

The Indian Science Congress Association, together with the University of Mumbai, recently arranged the 102nd Indian Science Congress 2015, at the University's Kalina campus in Mumbai.  The objective of the congress was to provide a platform for challengers to connect with creators to inspire future possibilities and bring them to life.  The event was inaugurated by the Union Minister for Science and Technology, Sri Harsh Vardhan on 3rd January, 2015.  While delivering the inaugural speech, drawing attention to ancient Indian sciences, he said, "Our scientists discovered the Pythagoras theorem but we sophistically gave its credit to Greeks.  We all know we knew "Beej Ganit" much before the Arabs, but very selflessly allowed it to be called Algebra."  This was enough to kindle a debate on the issue. Two groups dutifully endorsed and opposed what the minister said. Even as one of the groups was ridiculing the statement, Sri Shashi Tharoor, former Union Minister, endorsed the minister's observation, albeit in guarded language. The debate about Algebra and Geometry in particular, and Mathematics and Science in general, begs for deeper understanding and civilized behavior.  But it has unfortunately turned out to be "Pythagoras v/s Baudhayana".

Who was this Baudhayana?  What was his contribution to Mathematics?  When and where did he live?  Is there any truth in the claims that he was the original author or finder of the theorem?  These questions demand some consideration to understand the whole issue in proper perspective.

Baudhayana is believed to have lived during the 8th century before Christ (800 BC) in the area between present Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.  He is said to belong to the Krishna Yajurveda Taittariya shakha (branch).  Some also claim that he belonged to Shukla Yajurveda shakha.  He is respected and remembered even today.  The third "New Moon Day" (Amavasya in the month of Jyeshta) of the lunar calendar is known by his name as "Baudhayana Amavasya".  His Baudhayana Sutras are well known and a source of valuable knowledge to mankind. Apastamba, another sutrakara (author of sutras or formulae) who lived around 600 BC has improved on the sutras of Baudhayana.  Sutras are appendices to the Vedic texts and provide rules for constructions of altars for Havans and Yagnas, the sacred rituals. These sutras give the formulae and do not give proof in detail as is given in modern mathematical books.  Most of the ancient texts are in the form of formulae for easy remembering and passing on the knowledge to the next generations. This is to be understood in the context of the times when paper and printing was not available and the most prominent source of learning was in face-to-face interaction of the "Teacher and the Disciple", as per the "Guru-shishya parampara".

Baudhayana is known for many valuable contributions and three of them are outstanding gifts to sources of knowledge.  In addition to the issue in question (Pythagoras theorem), he has given an approximation of the square root of 2 and finding a circle whose area is equal to that of a given square.  This is something like reverse of squaring a circle.  In his sutras, Baudhayana uses the example of a rope and states that "A rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal lines make together".   This content is the same as the Pythagoras theorem and hence the claims that he was the founder of the theorem.

Pythagoras is believed to have lived in the 6th century BC (570-495 BC), about two centuries later.  He has made invaluable contributions to philosophy and religion. There are claims that Pythagoras was given credit to the theorem known by his name, three centuries later and Euclid is also credited for this theorem.  Who is the original author or finder of this theorem?  Mysore University has recently come out with a software that can find plagiarism and ensure quality research output by Ph D students. Unfortunately, this software cannot be used to settle the issue between Baudhayana, Pythagoras and Euclid!

The solution for the problem is in the Indian way understanding of sources of knowledge itself. Ancient indian philosophy believes that many strands of truth always exist in the universe and there is nothing called invention as such.  These ever existing truths are found by somebody and the entire mankind benefits from them.  While it is only fair that the first finder should be given credit for his efforts, all the arguments about the first finder only succeed in diverting the spotlight from the basic issue, which is the essence of the truth.  While debating such issues, it is pertinent to remember the following possibilities:
  • Same truth could have been found by more than one person at the same time, without knowing about other's efforts.
  • Same truth could have been found by more than one person at different times, without knowing about each other, especially in ancient times when flow of information was not as easy as today.
  • A seed found by an earlier person might have been developed by a later person adding more dimensions and clarity.
Now that the issue has come to sharper focus, what can be the future course of action? Continuing the arguments with lot of heat is not the answer at all. A clinical study of all the available information without prejudice and due respect to all the past greats and arriving at a conclusion acceptable to all, can be the first step. Respecting all streams of knowledge irrespective of the source is the second. Showing gratitude to all those who have contributed accumulation of knowledge over the years and gifted to us, is the third.

At the beginning of the famous Bruce Lee movie "Enter the Dragon", there is a scene in which Bruce Lee is teaching martial arts to a young student.  Lee points his finger to the moon and tells the student to look at the full moon in the sky, in all his glory.  The boy keeps looking at the finger.  Lee hits the boy on his head and advises him, "Do not look at the finger; look at the moon.  Otherwise you will miss all the beauty of the moon!" 

This argument of Pythagoras v/s Baudhayana is very similar to looking at the finger and missing all the beauty of the full moon in the clear sky.