The Freedom Revolution – Part II

It has been nearly 70 years since we became free from British Raj. We have progressed ahead since then – The Green revolution, economic liberalization and more recently, the technological wave that is markedly changing the lives of every single India from the white collared professional to the rural farmer. Yes, India with its 1 billion population is all set to live out the economic downturn that has hit the world – It is among the last frontiers left for western economies to participate in and fuelling their own growth

Over the last few years, the key question that has vexed me – What do Indians really want? It must be sounding naive as there is no straight or one answer to this question. But nevertheless, this is the very question whose answer all of us should be seeking and working towards – Politicians, bureaucrats, Media, corporates, start-ups, industrialists, farmers and everyone else. The real answers lay hidden not in political speeches or media uprisings about inconsequential issues but in coffee chats with colleagues or visiting the rural hinterland and talking to the villager about the real issues faced by them. We should aim to get honest answers backed by facts keeping aside political idealogies or media stories. After many discussions, I have been able to describe this in few words – A Valued and Happy Life. Sounds too obvious, na? Yeah..

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Live the Change

Our country witnessed two historic events over last year – (1) The overwhelming victory of BJP in the Parliament and (2) almost exclusive mandate for AAP to lead Delhi for 5 years. This is clearly a sign of people want to place their faith and belief in people who can deliver. Hence, my open letter to Arvind Kejriwal



I have a lot of respect and regard for you. I really admire your guts to come and form a political party to deliver change for the people of this country. Your crusade against corruption is impeccable to say the least. To me, AAP coming to power in Delhi is probably the single most important event since our freedom from British – it is a clear sign of change from the two old parties which have long since outlived their legacy and more importantly, people’s faith and trust. It also marks a remarkable shift in the mindset of youth towards politics. Despite the hiccups along the way, I wish you the very best to govern and deliver for change. Having said that, I wish to provide you few humble suggestions that you should focus amidst all the media and political distractions

1) Abandon traditional political philosophies if you sincerely wish to drive change in your language and minds. Words like “Party”, “High Command”, “Committee” etc. which are frequently used by your colleagues in the media demonstrate a 19th century attitude to solve the problems of the 21st century. This country has 70% of people under the age of 35 yrs – they have different value systems, attitude, ambition, aspiration. These are the people who are watching your colleagues on TV. Respect and embrace that. Else AAP is in danger of becoming another Congress or BJP in 10 years from now

2) Focus on delivering a better standard of living to the people of this country as they deserve it as much as the citizens in any developed country. We deserve better roads, better education, better transportation, better housing, 24×7 power, better jobs, better broadband connectivity, more green areas, better lifespaces and a better lifestyle irrespective of which strata of society we belong to. Countries like Japan were ravaged by a nuclear bomb during the 2nd world war while South Korea got freedom as late as 1945. And look at where they are today – this could not have happened if the govt did not believe its citizens deserved the best standard of living. The minimum standard of living in even the best cities in India leaves a lot to be desired – forget about rural areas. South Korea has ~50 mn population and they have infrastructure that can service atleast 3-4x that population. India’s infrastructure is not enough to provide a decent standard of living to 10% of India’s population. We need to build a 120 feet road instead of a 30 feet road. Visit other countries to understand how nuclear power can be harnessed in a safe and cost-efficient manner to generate electricity rather than abandoning it altogether and allowing our citizens to live in darkness. A lot of social evils (caste, religion, gender based) & citizen apathy towards state can be alleviated if the government can just consistently focus on this one problem – without political distraction and otherwise.

3) Continue your focus on eradicating corruption – Cost of living in India is now comparable to developed markets primarily due to the cost of corruption. Corruption is not simply about taking bribes but also about making bad economic decisions which can impact the lives of millions of people. This needs to follow a scientific & professional approach – fact based, transparent and open to criticism / validation. Somewhere, the leaders of the country wish the country continues to remain “poor” & “divided” so that they can always play the role of the messiah. By eradicating corruption, automatically the governance of the country is transferred from the hands of the politicians into the hands of the Aam aadmi – this will also mean politicians can focus on developing this country rather than waste time with meaningless discussions in the House.

4) Focus on valuable job creation across the board. Only when household income is impacted in any meaningful manner can we expect to bring about change. Corruption drives price higher and takes people below the poverty line – as much as valuable job creation moves people out of it. Let every job command the right price in the market so that quality of service improves across the board. The people of India deserve better quality of service – from education, healthcare, power – even it means it has to come at a higher price. A highway should never have to be dug again!! Subsidies cannot solve problems in the long run – Only improvement in productivity and ensuring the right quality of service (delivered at the right price) can ensure this. If this requires privatization, so be it – people have families to feed and take care of. Honestly, I still think government can bridge a huge gap here before private sector is onboarded

Please treat anything else as a distraction – You have only 5 years in power. Please do not get caught in political and bureaucratic wrangles. Nobody will remember how many morchas & rallies you held. This is the time to deliver so make it count. Make the most of it by impacting the lives of people. People will remember you only and only for that – If you achieve that, AAP won’t need to canvas for another election.

Thanking you,

Best Regards,

Arvind Shastry


Of Friendship

Returning back to Bangalore after completing the formalities of one of most difficult decisions in my life. It did not seem as difficult now as it seemed few months back.  But in my heart, I know it was the right decision to make. A lot of people advised me – Marriages are meant to be an adjustment, compromise between two individuals. The love that burns initially dies down after some time and partners learn to adjust with each other. A few are fortunate to find their partners complementing them very well. But what people tell me – 99% of marriages are otherwise. And they wanted me to continue with that reality of life instead of wishing for something more beautiful. After a long time, I decided to live for happiness instead of for society. Sometimes, in life, we just need to reverse some bad decisions to give ourselves an opportunity to live again.

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Rock On!!

Good time to restart blogging. Have been waiting for a long time to do this but sometimes it was the lack of ideas but mostly the lack of inclination that held me back. Ultimately, I found the inspiration to write again while watching a rerun of “Rock On” – sort of a cult movie..

Ten Years ago, I was in IIT, figuring on what to do in life. I was equally vociferous about my opinions on various issues – everything from secularism to ragging to college reservation to Bomb Blasts – on various discussion forums….I honestly don’t know and probably care less if I still hold onto those opinions. But it demonstrated an sense of passion for what went around me. I was immensely inspired to serve the nation and felt a responsibility to do so studying in the most premier college in the country. When I look back it, I feel proud of myself…

Here, I got in touch with few people who were equally driven by the fire like I was. It was the time when a few movies like Swades and Rang De Basanti awakened the entire nation. There was a sense of unity and aspiration among people like never before – an air of enthusiasm and optimism. It was just fantastic to exchange your ideas and passion with friends who shared the same enthusiasm as you. Still remember watching the first day show of RDB with few such friends…Honestly, I am not in touch with most of them but after such a long, I feel very happy to have such fond memories. Three such friends – PS, AS and NS – left an indelible mark on me. Now that I mention their initials, I finally realize they all shared the same last initial as mine!! 🙂

We came together to be part of an elite club – TeamSwades – a mission for change. Driving change in educational system was our common purpose as we all believed that the current system has its inadequacies and did not prepare children to pursue their interests. Instead, we ended up creating a bunch of engineers and MBAs who probably never wanted to become one…I still am amazed by this coincidence – it took a movie discussion forum and an All-India discussion event at Reliance Web World that brought us together.

PS and AS were from the same city so it was easier to meet them – infact they attended a special screening of Swades that I organized at IIT Bombay. I am simply amazed by their extent of passion – PS is extremely passionate about movies and how India needs a sustainable future using green energy. AS is spearheading a movement to drive leadership among youth through a series of social programs. He has been doing it for the last 4 years but I have never seen him lose a drop of enthusiasm. My meeting with NS happened a year later – It was at my convocation at IITB. We had become very good friends and I was simply blown away by the passion this girl had. From covering news beats for TOI or working for a youth magazine to campaigning for BJP, she has done everything. She whole-heartedly participated in anti-reservation protests which rocked the nation nearly 10 yrs back.

Honestly, compared to these people, I had done very little – But I was happy to be the force that brought us all together. It’s hard that 4 strangers could come together driven a common sense of purpose and become good friends who could share, discuss, talk and dream like no one else….

The thought came back to me when I saw “Magik” perform at Rock On after 10 years of separation. Today, PS is working his way through a corporate career. AS derives a sense of fulfillment through his work but is finding hard to reconnect. NS is married and happily settled but separated from the rest of the group. As for me, I am picking up pieces of my life which have come apart over the last year.I know that Magik happens when the team comes together but like KD, there has to be someone who can bring the gang together. It’s this incredible and powerful thought which provoked me to write this. Honestly, I just feel so energetic and I am sure this energy will recycle through me again and again. After all, success is nothing but moving from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm…

I know this is the start of a long & difficult yet beautiful journey. Look forward to it. It’s time to feel proud again!!

Nine full years……..

Today marks the 9th anniversary of I becoming an IITian. Couldn’t help but see the coincidence as I chatted with my two best IIT pals – Mohit Agarwal & Hrisheekesh Sabnis as the clock went past midnight. The feeling still is palpable as we spoke about the tension in the intervening period between our HSC results & JEE results. A day before our JEE results, Hrishi told another good friend Shyam that 2nd June 2002 will divide our lives into two parts!! Till date, I cannot think of a truer statement. I remember not sleeping at all on that eventful night!! I woke up in the morning, went for a long walk around my locality and returned back at around 8:30. Went up to my neighbour’s place as I did not have an internet connection then. I entered my registration ID and clicked that “enter” button. The next moment was a feeling that only few ppl in the world were privileged enough to savour!!

A lot has happened between then and now – some extra-ordinary and some pretty forgettable. As I am set to embark on a new journey, that moment 9 years ago brought back the zest in life, the willingness & ambition to go out and achieve one’s dreams no matter how much you are mocked at!!

Impossible truly is nothing…

Time for a revolution…

I must confess that in the last few years, I have never so deeply followed any issue as much as I have followed the agitation to implement the Lokpal bill. To put it simply, the bill aims to grant authority to the civil society to investigate corruption against politicians. It’s effectiveness depends on whether the highest political authority in the country viz. the Prime Minister and all the bureaucrats are brought under its purview. No wonder, Mr. Sharad Pawar had to resign from the GOM to draft the bill citing conflict of interest. Indeed, there could not have been a bigger conflict of interest!!

Hats off to this man..

Why I am so deeply influenced by this issue is because it’s the only one which seeks to address the need for systemic political change in India. My beliefs have changed over the last decade from being against politics to supporting the cause of effective & professional governance. There have been many agitations in India in the past  viz. the fight by medical and engg students against reservation, protests against purchase of sub-standard equipment for the armed forces (esp. the infamous MIG-21), fight to implement a strong anti-terror law to protect its citizens etc. However, all of these sought to merely address a particular issue in isolation. This is not to say that the Lokpal bill is the panacea to all problems. However, like the RTI, it is a step in the right direction. For a change, it’s nice to see media houses providing more coverage to Mr. Hazare’s fast and social activism rather than focussing on the cheerleaders who will perform in the forthcoming IPL.

And talking of IPL, what else can be a more elaborate example of corruption. All the investigation which started with so much fanfare last year – Flow of IPL money into tax havens, hidden stakes by politicians & BCCI officials in IPL teams, lack of accountability & transparency by the BCCI who are yet to show their financial accounts to the public – merely died down with an 80,000 pg long report by the ex-IPL boss and the corrupt nature of the ex-BCCI chief and current ICC president. It’s sad to see the IPL, which aimed to provide lucrative opportunities for our domestic players, still proceeding ahead with its 4th season without the corrupt officials being brought to book. Lalit Modi continues to evade investigation by parking himself in UK. If all IPL accounts were to brought out in black & white, it is quite possible that the event that we Indians so lauded of will prove to be a matter of great shame as we seek to become the global powerhouse of the 21st century!!

Sports has always been a passion for me and is one area where I wish to contribute. I was speaking to my good friend, who has worked with a popular sports marketing firm & the CWG 2010 sponsorship team, yesterday about the condition of sports in India. And all his experiences only pointed towards one conclusion – India can indeed become a great sporting nation if we could weed out corruption. And I do not wish to further rant about the CWG scam, the National Games in Jharkhand, the pathetic facilities given to our athletes & sportspersons, the number of years spent by our sports bosses in different federations (which will soon exceed the years most sports-loving youth in India would have spent alive) etc.

I learnt from him that our union civil aviation minister is also the secretary of AIFF, not to mention his substantial contribution in creating one of the new IPL teams and his enthusiasm for cricket given the amount of time he spends in VIP pavilions during cricket matches!! Ofcourse, nothing could beat our current ICC president holding the post of Union Agriculture Minister in India!! While it’s fascinating to have such multi-faceted people governing us, it begs to ask the question if India can afford to provide 2-3 key roles to a single politician in a country of 1.2 billion where nobody really cares about unemployment rate, job creation or social security status. The counter argument could be that we do not have enough skilled people for these positions which begs the question as to if these people were indeed interviewed and chosen to be the sports bosses based on their resumes. My friend told me that a former Indian Olympian is pushing the agenda with the sports ministry to get paid professionals to govern Indian sports. Well, I would love to witness the day when the Kalmadis and the Gills of this country are thrown into oblivion with no remorse!!

Just as sports requires passion, so does national leadership. The other day I was talking to another friend of mine who is a social entrepreneur. He told me that for a social enterprise to benefit from any of the ‘generous’ government schemes aimed at supporting rural development & employment, one has to ‘pay’ bribe and that too at the highest level (read Union Cabinet Minister). There exists an organized procedure to collect such bribes even if none exists to address complaints against corrupt practices. No wonder some of the ministers in the ‘jumbo’ cabinet almost never make a public appearance or statement!! For all the supporters of parliamentary democracy who cry out loud asking citizens to file complaints in a court of law, I only have one question to ask – Was any politician convicted over the defence scandal exposed by Tehelka? Has any politician ever been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment or death for the numerous crimes for which they are chargesheeted and will continue to be since citizens have only a limited lifespan!! No wonder, our politicians have ensured that India has remained largely uneducated so far. Coz if we could not just read and write but also think like a concerned citizen, there is certainly no way some of these ‘old warhorses’ will survive in our parliament.

It is indeed time for a revolution, possibly the biggest after India’s freedom struggle, for people to unite together and overthrow some of our leaders. Hope to be part of governing our nation someday!!

A special moment in life..

>Feels good to be back at doing what I enjoy a lot – writing. Much has happened in the last year and a blog was inevitable to describe it all!!

May 11th, 2009 was my last day at my previous company. I was happy and thrilled to fly back to Mumbai 2 days later, carrying very special memories of my 3 years in Abu Dhabi. Till date, those special memories continue to provide meaning to my life and convince me why it is worth living..

Fast track to June 1st, 2010, I find myself with a final offer – just a little over an year since I left my last job and exactly 8 years since I cracked IIT-JEE. This is a truly incredible feeling – perhaps a little less relieving that when I got my first job in IITB but nevertheless truly amazing!! Having been the last of 10 people to get through TAS in the summer placement season at IIMC (after having 9 shortlists on day 0 and being rejected in the 4 I could attend), the pre-placement offer is truly a cherry on top of the cake. I was 2nd last to be interviewed by TAS during summers (after a 2 hr wait) with 9 offers already made before me. I was the last guy to be interviewed again during the final round. Quite a coincidence but surely not a favourable one. When you need to wait for a whole day and then display all your self-confidence and passion with a smile at 11:30 in the night, it can get a little taxing. Over time, however, I have become more patient, resilient and self-confident. Taking a cue from sports, I always knew that the longer you stay in any game, the better will be your chances. Now, I can look forward to an year of festivals, photography, travel, sports and ofcourse, free-riding.

The reason I was less relieved than I was at IITB probably reflects the change in my mindset. The last few years have taught me to become more balanced in life without unduly craving for anything. I remember telling a few of my friends before my summers that I did not think too much about the PPO. I just wanted to give my best in the project and perform well at every stage of the process. This approach indeed helped me to be focussed on getting results and delivering my best. Gokul (IIMA) worked alongwith me on our project at TATA Capital. His ability to quickly analyze data and get results was incredible. I also shared my knowledge and experience with him. I helped him work in an organized manner to achieve results. Not even once I ever thought, “Why should I help him when he is my potential competitor?”. And I say this irrespective of which side of the line I would have found myself. For a change, I threw away the crass IIT-IIM attitude of RG in favour of a more human, natural approach. Somewhere, I discovered my true self, which at times got lost after looking at how people around you behave, esp to win rewards. Together, we had a really good two months, delivering one quality project and discussing a wide variety of stuff under the sun (Gokul’s favourite being my crush on IIMA girls). I am sure this guy will go ahead and crack bigger things in life.

Even as the final results were announced, I surprisingly found myself extremely relaxed in the room. I remember telling Romil (IIMC) in the morning that I felt confident and he can expect a call from me later in the night. I must also thank Kathikeyan (IIMA), who was my room-mate at TMTC. His ultra-cool attitude really did rub on me and made C-9 the lucky room at TMTC as both of us got the final offers. My heart really goes out to two of the final 11 who didn’t make the cut. I have found myself in their position many times before, when I failed 15 interviews in IITB before cracking one!! Perhaps, it’s the failure in the past which teaches one to become more balanced emotionally in life. Today, there are fewer things which elate me or deflate me than probably 4 years before. I am less affected by negative comments directed at me. At IIT, I was more desperate for a job. Today, I am quietly confident without undue worries.

My project taught me more than just aspects related to private equity. It reinforced the broad vision which I have always had for India. Today, I really feel proud that India built the Nano through it’s own engineering excellence and at a cost lower than the cost of China’s cheapest car. India is among the fastest growing economies in the world and might even end up ahead of China in a few years with improvement in our macreconomic conditions. At the same time, the Naxalite attacks, over-burdened infrastructure, a rat race called education, rampant corruption in the administration all seem to be pulling India down – the Medical Council of India (with its corrupt head), the BCCI (headed by a person with one leg in the coffin and still heading for ICC presidency), a judiciary (which allows Ajmal Kasab to appeal to a higher court or even the president for mercy), a democracy (which allows the Ambani brothers to broker another peace pact after nullifying the previous one), a tax authority (which collects taxes to finance the losses of Air India and the oil marketing companies), a telecom authority (which auctioned off 2G for a pittance) and many more.

As a TAS manager, I share the philosophy which the TATAs had for India. When Mr. J N Tata decided to set up a steel plant in India, he could visualize manufacturing driving India’s growth. It’s indeed seen to be true today. Having gone through numerous reports and news articles on India’s growth for my project, I would like to end by enlisting the three most important things for India –

1) Develop infrastructure. With India adding nearly 20 million to its population every year, the need for good quality housing, water supply, power supply, transport, good schools & universities will ensure that an Indian will have living standards comparable to those in the developed nations. Infrastructure development needs to go alongwith increased focus on manufacturing sector which will cater to consumption needs of India’s teeming millions besides creating jobs for people.

2) Create jobs. In India, job creation has failed to keep pace with the number of entrants to the labour pool. India is all set to add the highest number of people to the workforce over the next decade, greater than China, US and the whole of G7. If this workforce is not employed productively and used effectively to drive not only the nation’s growth but also individual growth, it will only create more social and economic unrest. To this end, it’s important to make education relevant and useful rather than just an academic exercise. The number of applicants to medical colleges has dropped to a tenth of the number in 2002 despite healthcare being a critical sector for India’s growth. It is important to encourage diversity in professions and make careers easier for people to pursue rather than monopolizing professions, a classic example being the Gandhi family domination (I watched Rajneeti a couple of days back, one helluva movie). It’s important to ensure that jobs at different levels are dignified and people get their due rather than money finding its way into a small portion of the population. I really feel for our teachers who do not get their salaries in time while performing the most important function of educating India.

3) Control our population. This is important especially from the socio-economic perspective as I feel extremely distressed to see poverty breeding poverty. In the absence of quality education among the poor classes of the society, they tend to believe that greater number of children will help provide a better future for them. However, this ends up being a vicious cycle. I believe that healthy competition in any field can sustain itself only if there is a check on the number of individuals serious about participating in it. The more dissatisfying part is politicians attempt to cash in on their votes without any serious attempt to tackle poverty at ground level. Be it in politics or media or Class X board exams, the concept of “small is beautiful” has its relevance as it is easier to focus on a smaller populace, resulting in efficient governance or administration and lesser strain on our resources.