Category Archives: Human behaviour

A Scam of the Future in India

Recently a friend shared a post on Facebook about how one can “buy” a solar panel installed in a remote desert, as part of an array of panels, and “earn” the revenue generated by the sale of electricity.

Solar panels in the desert

Picture credit: Rodrigo Arancibia Zamora

Very positive initiative indeed. Not only does the company which initially spends millions to set up the solar array recover a neat sum back, but also creates a market for a created asset. Who knows…if you buy it now at say $10, you maybe able to sell it to someone else for $100 a few years down the line. You like the idea?

At the same time, my brain flashed the words “teak farm”. In case you have not come across this, in the 90’s and in the early part of this millennia, it was popular to “invest” in companies that promised to grow certain number of teak trees for you in a remote part of the country. Preferably an estate in the hills. They promised to return crores through the sale of matured trees. People invested. In return, they all got papers indicating the exact place/location where their trees are growing. They invested even more! And … well you can imagine the rest…

I expect that someone with similar talents of scamming will soon offer the (nonexistent) solar panel in the Thar desert scheme to us gullible folks in India. In the age of the social media, there will be fake accounts created to extol the virtues of this company, and how we can expect to get rich quick. And that is always the key message – “Get rich quick”. The scamsters love to tap into the most basic of human emotions – GREED.

Well…you have been warned. Check before you leap. What the heck…Double check. Keep your remonitised money safe in 2017!

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Factual Thinking

Facts & Opinions.

Hopefully you know how to differentiate between them. No? Well this should help then.

It is a fact that my weight is closer to 100 kg than 70 kg. It is someone’s opinion that I am a fat slob! I will not say who, but they know 😀

There. Now you know the difference. But, I want you to go one step further. How do we use facts? In our thinking. In our conversations. In our decision making.

Typically, most of use only those facts that are suitable to our point of view. In effect, our point of view, may influence what facts that we look for, and make us discard the inconvenient ones. Rare are those humans, who are capable of looking at all facts, and then alter their point of view accordingly.

One reason for this not being a strong point amongst us in India is our schooling system. It encourages being “right” over being “different”. Compliance is the key. We encourage debates to choose a winner, not a solution.  We encourage the habit of looking at facts selectively.

So, what could be done differently?

There is not much emphasis given to teaching students on how to solve problems taking into account all the facts, as well as opinions, available. This approach has been codified by the famous Edward de Bono, through various approaches for thinking and acting (as in taking action), and these are available through books  that are easy to understand.

I think it is Amartya Sen who has written in one of his books that ancient India was known for a debating style that was more inclusive. While, he has not connected this to whether the debates were based on facts or ideas alone, or a combination of both, but I would not at all be surprised to find a reference that is similar to the approach outlined by de Bono. Perhaps such an approach (let me know if you know of it) might be more acceptable to the educators in India. The key is to choose the appropriate weightage for facts, and for opinions. Include both, but try not to allow one to dominate the other.

So much so for the process. The real benefit of including this aspect in the teaching methodology will be seen in a few years time. As I see it, the more number of youngsters we have in this country who are able to avoid the trap of choosing facts selectively in the process of solving problems, the better are the chances that they will make more meaningful contribution (definitely more than me! hopefully more than you?) to the nation. Learning to deal with opinions, especially one’s different from own’s, should be a part of the learning

In a recent interview, Fali Nariman, the experienced lawyer, credited Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former PM, with the ability to take people along with him in the decision making process. If our polity could only learn from his legacy, and stop taking rigid stances, we could all benefit immensely.

So, what do you do when faced with inconvenient facts?

PS: I tried to get my sons to view all the facts about how their football club actually operates. Placed certain inconvenient facts about how the footballers they admire so much, could help subsidise the exorbitant ticket prices of the clubs they play for, by lowering their salaries, but choose not to. Not interested they said! 😉

 

Just another Indian Railways employee

I sensed it, before I heard it. There I was standing on Platform No. 1 of Nagpur Railway Station. Checking out which newspaper to buy. I glanced sideways. The train was moving! Bloody hell! I had not heard any announcement. Nor the normally loud horn of the diesel engine pulling my train. The superfast Tamil Nadu Express.

I turned and ran. Straight into a man carrying a steel trunk. It hit me on the shin. But, now was not the time to think about the pain. Now, was the time to run. And to catch the train. “Don’t get down from the train, before it reaches Madras” my dad had warned me last night, before the train left New Delhi at 10 PM. And here I was, running after a train that was accelerating out of Nagpur.

Well, now was the time to put all the skills learnt catching those DTC buses to school and back. I had been using the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses for the last 2 years. Initially, I would patiently wait for an opportunity to push others in, or get pushed myself into the narrow doors at the rear of the bus. That was when I was 13. Things had changed in the last one year. Running behind a bus that had started and jumping onto it had become the norm.  It was all a matter of timing. Yeah. That and the girls to impress. Were they? I will never know!

Back to the TN express. The Pantry car was going past me now. Run man! Run faster! I heard someone yell “Jaane do!” (Let it go!). Nopes. Not an option. I was now almost at the same speed as the train. As I reached for the handle of the door at the end of the pantry car, I realised that the door was closed. No time to wait. I had to grab the handle and jump on to the top step. Just as my right foot hit the step, I realised I had made a mistake. The step was wet. And I was wearing flip flops. Net result – poor grip. Just as my mind said “Oh oh”, the door was yanked open from inside, a pair of strong arms lifted me in. It was one of the pantry guys.

And then started the tirade. To my good luck, my knowledge of Tamil was not all that great. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to open the door and jump out again. In between the many unmentionable, unprintable words hurled at me, I was told in no uncertain terms of how I was a maniac who deserved to be admitted to the nearest mental hospital. I tried to say thanks. Thanks for saving my life. But it only caused him to flare up even more. Perhaps one of his colleagues felt sorry for me, and pulled him back into one of the resting areas meant for staff.

As my compartment was ahead of the pantry car, my walk across the entire length of it was one of the longest in my life. Silent they may have been, as I was limped past them – the other staff and fellow passengers in the pantry car- but I could feel the collective term they were using in their minds – Irresponsible Idiot.

The pain where my leg had been hit by the steel trunk now hurt badly. I dragged myself back to my seat 3 compartments away. As I collapsed into my seat, I understood how lucky I was. It hit me now. I struggled to keep my emotions in control. Not to cry in front of my fellow passengers. I decided to climb to my top berth in the sleeper II class and lie down for some time. The summer heat made it almost impossible to lie down there. But, I must have been tired. Overwhelmed. Because, the next thing I remember is being woken up by someone shaking my leg. Right where I had been hit earlier! I was ready to curse whoever it was. It was him. We recognised each other. I swallowed the curses. “Saapad” he said. And left the steel tray and it’s cover at one end of the berth.

He had taken the food order earlier this morning while I was still in my berth. Without my prescription glasses on, he was just a blur, from my bunk. I tried to catch his attention to try and thank him again, but he had other customers to attend to. I was hesitant because I did not want him to flare up again.

Later, after the night meal, as we were speeding through Andhra Pradesh, he came to collect the dues. I paid him. As he was collecting from others in my seating area, I hesitantly asked him “Ungal per?” (Your name?). “Muthu” he said. And he smiled at me. “Thanks Muthu” was all I was able to say.

Muthu. Just another Indian Railways employee.

 

Values to Cherish

“Garage ka chaabi de jara” said my brother (Give me the keys to the garage). He normally does not keep anything there, so as I gave him the key I asked him what he wanted to keep inside. “Nahin. Plastic chairs nikal na hai andar se” (No. I have to remove the plastic chairs from inside).

Apparently a family was taking shelter under the solid shade of the Honge tree in front of our home, and there was an elderly lady and gent among them, and he wanted to offer the chairs to them.

The tree and the pavement

The tree, the shade, the pavement

I have mentioned earlier about the Hospital that is virtually next door to us. These folks were visiting the hospital to be with a loved one. They had brought packed lunch with them, and in the absence of a canteen in the hospital, needed a place to sit and have their meal in peace. I noticed that they had brought their food in steel containers. They were having their meals in disposable plates.

Later in the afternoon, when I went out, I noticed that the chairs had been kept back on our verandah, and there was no food or disposable plates at the base of the tree. Yes, there was traces of water at the base of the tree where they had possibly washed their hands. My heart swelled with pride for my fellow Bangaloreans actions. In spite of their personal situation, they had made sure that there was no litter left behind. Along with it came a sense of shame that I had expected them to litter the place, if nothing else, at least with the disposable plates. They hadn’t.

My thinking was based on an incident a few days back. An early morning, when I had seen a number of disposable plates that had been littered by the roadside in front of our home. I felt that it was a Ganesha immersion party that had done the deed. I had heard several processions go past our home the previous night. And then there are the many smartly dressed youngsters who often come to the store next door, pick up ice cream or chocolates, and think nothing of dropping the sticks or the covers on the pavement in front of our home. Naturally, I wished Bangalore had more people like that family, and less of the latter.

Also, is there not a common thread between my brother’s and the family’s actions? A mind (or is it heart?) that cares for entire strangers. One which thinks about not inconveniencing others. This to me , is a value that is to be cherished. A value that anyone has to be thankful to one’s parents and teachers for inculcating in us. A common refrain is “It is not easy to practice this value in this age. Everyone cares only about themselves first.”. Do try. The more you do, the better you will get at it. And the world will be a better place for it. Agree?

Dumb and Dumber…yes, that’s me!

I have just reached nirvana earlier today! Nirvana of embarrassment. Of the self-inflicting kind. Read on…

So, went to a function today with mom to wish a senior citizen (her friend’s husband) for completing a 1000 new moons in his life, and to take the couple’s blessing. We know them and their children from our days in Delhi, and so you get the picture…

After lunch, picked up the tamboola (return gift), and a packet of sweet and one of namkeen and was looking to say bye to all of them and leave. Here is what happened next:
Please imagine this with me holding the tamboola in one hand and two other small packets of sweet/namkeen in the other:

Daughter-in-law to me: Ravi, please come & take the gift
Me: Why me? Mom is coming-please give her
Lady: No no, this one for Roopa (my wife did not make it to the function…and I suppose it was good in a way too that she did’nt, had she made it, then you dear reader, would not have had the pleasure of reading this!!!)
Me: Oh, Ok
Lady takes the tray & places a small gift pouch on it, expecting me to pick it up. I on the other hand thought that the tray itself was on offer!

To add to my confusion, someone tried to help me saying “you can put the gift into the bag” referring to the tamboola bag. Boy, was I confused now! How am I supposed to fit the large, colourful, plastic tray into this tiny bag?

In my confusion I kept that bag and the other snack pouches on the tray too! So, now, the lady is holding the tray on one side, and me on the other, with all the bags on the tray.

Luckily, another lady standing nearby, who possibly had prior experience of such dumbness on display said “No. Don’t take the tray. Take that gift pouch and put it into the tamboola”

Aaaaaaaaahhh! Dimaag ki batti jal gayi. Late jalli toh kya hua? Jalli toh sahi!

I picked all the bags from the tray, gave a “Please forgive the idiot” smile n exited from the place as quickly as my feet would take me!!

The point, dear reader, is to learn from above, and to never offer me a gift again on a tray.  You want to give it?  Just hand it over in my hands I say! Don’t confuse this small brain of mine… 🙂

Jumping to Conclusions: How soon is too soon?

Me: (in as contrite a tone that I could muster) “Sorry madam”
She: (disdainfully) “Nimma sorry nu beda, nimma dudu beda! Hogri!” or “Dont need your sorry or your money! Get lost!”
Ouch! That hurt.

So, having read that conversational exchange , what conclusions have you jumped to, dear reader? Hopefully none. Some of you may have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink where he writes about how our mind tends to process partial information and how it is at times useful, and at other times, not so.  As my dear friend AC would say, “The human mind is wired to be this way. Overcoming this requires a lot of effort.” Not easy at all.

This happened a few years back.  I had gone to a shop nearby to get additional keys made for the front door of my home.  “Computerised duplicate keys made here” was what they said. Job done, paid for, came home and tried to open the door with the new keys.  Surprise surprise…two of the three keys I got made did not work.  So much so for computer control. :/ Who wrote the #*@# software for that machine?  Not me!

The complementary key chain provided by the shop had a number on it.  I called and complained about the shoddy job done.  The person asked me to bring the keys back to the shop and said it can be fixed easily. Why not do the job right  the first time itself was my thought.

So, I went back, and despite my best attempt to get their attention to my problem, no one seemed to be interested.  This is not what I was expected after the phone call, so I lost my cool, and said a few harsh things to them.  Now, with other customers around, the store owner, a lady, possibly felt the need to control the damage being caused to their reputation.  She flatly denied that they had got any call from me just a few minutes before, and that I was, in effect, lying! Wonder what my blood pressure was at that point?  Luckily for both of us, an employee of the shop stepped in at this point and asked me for the number that I had called.  I thrust the key chain into his hand and asked him to read it for himself.  He did.

And said “Ah saar! Neevu namma VVPuram shop call madidira!” or “You have called our VV  Puram shop”.  So, here is what had happened.  The store near my home was new branch.  The key chain had the number of their older branch in another part of town.  I felt quite sheepish at having lost my cool, and consoled myself thinking “How the hell was I supposed to know?”.  In the meantime, a technician had done some more work on the keys, and even offered to come along with me to check out whether it worked or not.  So before leaving, I decided to apologise to the store owner, and …well, you know the rest. 🙂

So, dear reader, I hope you can find an answer to the question – how soon is too soon to jump to conclusions?  I did!  Not that I remembered.  But, more about that for later.

Do you have the energy?

The feet.  The ankles.  The knees.  They are aching.  They are not used to being subjected to carrying the heavy weight above (the rest of me) for so long.  It was meant to be a short ride.  Not so long.

It seemed like a long time ago, but in reality it was only 40 minutes back that I decided to walk it to the nearest bus stop, and take the bus to Jayanagar 4th Block complex.  I got a bus almost immediately.  I got a seat too. And then I gave it up.  At the very next stop an elderly gentleman also got into the bus, and I got up and offered my seat to him.  He thanked me, and sat down.  I moved closer to the door, anticipating that my journey would end in another 5 minutes on a traffic free Sunday evening.

That’s when Mr. Murphy decided to strike.  The bus got stuck in a gridlock. It took a good 15 minutes to break it up.  Traffic had built up by then, and we virtually crawled into the 4th Block bus stand. As I got done, the elderly gent also got up from his seat and asked with concern in his voice “Why did you give me your seat if you are getting down now?  I thought you were getting down at the next stop?” I shook his hand, smiled,  and walked away to my destination – a book shop.

Later, I am across this blog article – http://jimwoodsblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/tom-peters-physics-of-kindness-and_26.html – and it made me ask myself some questions:

Why did I do what I did? Courteousness? Would I have done the same if I knew that I would have to stand for 20 minutes? Was this an isolated act of kindness on my part?

The article makes one point that “it takes energy to propagate kindness”.  And that kindness does not propagate easily for this reason.  Perhaps I had rested well that afternoon to be kind to a stranger. Perhaps my children do not see that aspect in me, when I come back home late at night (tired? energy less?) and ask them about their school work!

To quote a Chinese Taoist philosopher: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

I was the recipient of an act of kindness myself from a stranger myself.  I was eating dinner one evening at what we Bangaloreans refer to as a standing joint – Prasiddhi – about 100 m away from home – and was finding it too spicy for my taste.  Those who have been to such places would know that there is a water cooler from which the guest is expected to take water in steel tumblers (lottas).  I had taken one, and already finished it.  Unknown to me, one of the workers had been observing me from across the counter.  He came out into the dining area, went to the water cooler, filled up water in a fresh tumbler, and brought it and kept it on my table. He then asked me “sugar beka saar?” and without waiting for my answer, went to the juice counter, and brought some in a small steel bowl. This guy, and the others typically work from 7 AM to 9 PM every day.  They stay on their feet most of the day. It was about 8 PM when this happened. Where did he find the energy to be so kind? He went back behind the counter.  I thanked him after I finished my meal. He seemed to be embarrassed by my thanks – did not want to draw attention to himself I suppose.

So, dear reader, have you been kind today?