Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Recco: Half - Lion: How P.V Narasimha Rao Transformed India

Not much is known about this former PM of India in spite of being the first Non Nehru Gandhi family member to complete a full five years as PM. Hence, I was curious to read this book and finished it wiser.

This is the story of a true blue Congressi, Nehru Gandhi Loyalist who was made Andhra CM and then PM for the same reason - his perceived weakness and lack of vote base. While Manmohan Singh is popularly perceived as the Finance Minister who liberalized India, this book paints a picture of how PM Rao plotted and enabled all of that. How he deftly planned and maneuvered his party the opposition and the country is detailed.

The book has an interesting chapter structure chronologically followed by specific chapters on important topics. This focus helps ease of understanding as a simple chronological narrative may have been tougher to grasp. Topics covered include the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Managing Sonia Gandhi, Nuclear Policy and his foreign policy

Check Half - Lion: How P.V Narasimha Rao Transformed India out on Amazon

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Book Recco: Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace

This Auto-biographical book details the various transformational initiatives by a second generation Brazilian entrepreneur Ricardo Semler. This helped Semco become a Great Place to Work and of course employee happiness and profits multiplied. 

If you are a leader in an organisation, you will find this book thought provoking. This book is more than 20 years old and was probably much ahead of it's time, but is relevant event today.

This company

- Reduced hierarchy

- Shared profits with it's employees

- Allowed flexible work times even in a factory setting, (imagine the reasons you have heard or thought for not allowing this in your workplace!)

- Resiliently weathered many national inflationary phases and economic downturns

- Allowed employees to democratically decide almost everything from production goals to office architecture to even salaries and hiring their bosses

- Employees gave feedback on their bosses twice a year and their managers had to meet a certain level

- Enabled their employees to become entrepreneurs by setting up 'satellite' companies that then  supplied to the parent company

- The author also shares how he transformed from a workaholic to almost completely working from home and spent lesser time 'directing' his company

Check out Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace on Amazon

Monday, January 03, 2022

News7tamil Interview about Bhumi #PhoenixManithargal

 Full interview about the work we do at Bhumi, broadcast on News7Tamil on Jan 2 in the programme Phoenix Manithargal

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Welfare measures by TN Government for children who have lost their parent(s) due to COVID-19

 Summary of G.O. No 24 of Social Welfare & Woman Empowerment Department Dt 11/06/2021 

For those children who have been Orphaned

- INR 5 lakh deposit to be paid with interest to such children when they turn 18. This is applicable when either the child has lost both parents due to COVID-19 OR one parent earlier and the second due to COVID

- Such children will be given preference in Govt homes, hostels, and all those expenses will be borne by the state government

For other children

- INR 3 lakhs will be given to single parents as immediate relief

- Children who have lost both parents but living with guardians and not admitted to Child Care Institutions (CCI) will receive INR 3,000 per month until they turn 18

- Such children and their single parents will be given priority in all state government schemes

You can read the full G.O. here

Firstly, this is a commendable measure by the TN Government. While there is huge scope to improve Government-run CCIs and how the government accredits and deals with CCIs run by NGOs all that is for another day.

What should we as citizens do?

- The Government is funding this through generous contributions to TN CM's public relief fund, consider making a donation. I have and you should consider making an 80G tax-exempt donation too.

- If you know of such children within your community help them access the government schemes, support them financially, emotionally

- If you know any child who has lost one or both parents due to COVID-19 refer them to Bhumi for a scholarship

What should we as citizens think about and do?

- Would you be okay with your child living in a Govt or NGO-run shelter home (CCI) or on INR 3,000 p.m.?

- What about children whose parents pass away at other times? There are several thousand children who need your support, refer children for a Bhumi Scholarship. Bhumi scholarships reach a few thousand children each year.

-Do you consider such positive actions and intent by politicians when you vote for them?

In December 2015, post the Chennai Floods visiting an affected shelter home (CCI) made me cringe at the appalling living conditions. I thought if I had children, would I want them to grow up like this? and hence I should do something about it. The very next month I quit my medical practice to join Bhumi full-time.

Start volunteering for children at a shelter home or planting a tree in your neighborhood. Build empathy in your children by taking them with you when you volunteer. That's how we can build a more equal, influential, socially conscious society.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Book Recco: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre

The most gripping non-fiction book I've read!

The first few chapters set the context of the main character slowly rising in tempo leading to a feverish pace towards the end. The last third of the book is unputdownable. This is the story of Oleg Gordievsky a KGB spy who became an MI6 double agent. As the most senior KGB agent to defect to MI6 during the cold war he probably averted a major war and possibly changed the course of the cold war itself by hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

While the book referred to real-life people including world leaders throughout I completed the book thinking this was good imagination merging fiction with the truth. It was only during the epilogue it struck me that I should Google the names, I was shocked to realise all of the characters were true and the book was non-fiction!

This book was more gripping than most fictional thrillers I've read! I suggest reading the book and then checking out Wikipedia so that the story isn't spoiled for you. Leave a comment if you enjoyed the book

Sunday, April 18, 2021

COVID #VaccinesSaveLives #VaccinesWork

In January, India started vaccinating frontline workers. My brother, a practising physician, told me that I only needed my medical council license to get the shot. After asking him to call me when he was going to get vaccinated I decided that I didn't need it on priority then. I was not at risk of serious disease because of my age and health and I always wear a mask.

In a few weeks, the misinformation on vaccination started. So did the jokes on the Prime Minister for not vaccinating himself. As a leader, PM Modi should have vaccinated himself first. I am sure his team must have evaluated the pros and cons. If he had vaccinated himself first he may have faced criticism for being selfish. But, the delay allowed political opponents to sow seeds of doubt that he was waiting due to fear.

Again, I evaluated, whether to get myself vaccinated and influence people around me. Or, to wait my turn. I felt conflicted about taking up someone else's turn. I was also confused about whether I was up in my head over-rating the influence I had. I decided to wait. In the meanwhile, my parents got vaccinated and the second wave started showing signs. I started urging people to go vaccinate themselves, their parents, and grandparents.

Recently I came to know I had to travel for work and went and got myself vaccinated immediately. I thought with over 10 crore people vaccinated in India there was no need to take a #VaccineSelfie. This morning, an alarmed friend pointed me to a series of posts by a former colleague. The posts reeked of irresponsible misinformation, conspiracy theories, and 'expert' opinions. I have been deeply troubled since.

In India, we know 1.5 crore people got affected by COVID-19 of whom over 1.77 lakh have lost their lives. At the end of March, there were 180 deaths due to AEFI Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI). While India had vaccinated 6 crore people then, now it's at 12 crores. Do the math for yourself you are 4,000 more likely to die of COVID compared to vaccination. The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks, and many more illnesses and deaths would occur without vaccines.

In the next few weeks-months, vaccines may become more widely available. If you are lucky, you may come to know of vaccines available at the end of the day at a vaccination centre near you. Or if you live in a city that's silently vaccinating everyone (ref) go get yourself vaccinated.

Trust in science, don't believe in fake news. Be responsible, don't spread misinformation. I am #Covishielded. Get Vaccinated when your turn comes #VaccinesSaveLives #VaccinesWork

Also, you will find this short video informative on #Covid vaccines #MustWatch

If you are cynical about data from India, please do note that Covishield is manufactured in India under license from AstraZeneca. The vaccine is administered in other countries as well, I will be updating this post with further references

Canada has reported 2 AEFI after 700,000 injections - Reference

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Bhumi - Story of people - Part#1

Where Bhumi is today is the collaboration, care and ownership of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of others who shaped our destiny. Superficially, it's easy to look at Bhumi as having built by one person or just a handful of people. But that's very far from the truth.

When we start naming people, the risk of missing someone is always there. I acknowledge my memory isn't perfect and there was so much I didn't know because of the decentralised nature of our organisation and my own immaturity. Yet, to not give credit where it's due is unfair and I'm going to attempt it. If you do notice any mistakes, gaps it's not personal, please do point them out.

I've already shared a lot about Ayyanar, Gyan & Hari.

Anurag Shrivatsava who seeded the idea that led to us registering Bhumi was the oldest among us and Gyan had advised that it would be best if he were the founding president when we registered the organisation. Punit Vanjani used to work at an IT company and was associated until he left Chennai a year or two later.

Prakash Selvaraj was then a student, active member of Leo Club always brimming with passion, ideas and questions. When I took up national responsibilities. Prakash along with Hari took up the responsibility of coordinating the chapter. While Hari coordinated the Bala Mandir centre, Prakash used to coordinate Pudupettai. Much more about Prakash in the coming months.

Apart from Gyan, there were three others from IIT Madras. Manish Kumar Pathak, a UG student, was one of the coordinators of the group when I joined and used to host some of the meetings at IIT Madras. Swaminathan Subramanian was a PhD Scholar and Raghav Venkatesan a UG student were friends and were part of many of our activities including Pudupettai.

The ten of us were the founding signatories when we registered Bhumi as a non-profit society.

Purnendu Singh used to be very active online and helped recruited many volunteers. It's quite possible that he may have recruited me too :) Purnendu who was not in town when we registered Bhumi was part of projects like computer education, RTI and continues to play a small but significant role to this date

There were many others like Indumathi, Vasudha, Makarand, Karthikeyan, Badri, Arun, Karthik, Vijay

A favourite quote that used to be on my email signature for many years then sums it up "Never Doubt That A Small Group Of Thoughtful Committed Citizens Can Change The World: Indeed It'S The Only Thing That Ever Has" Margaret Mead. If anything, Bhumi is a story of people.


Have you done something with a group of people, all of you should be feeling proud of? Leave a comment.


#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Bhumi - Problems Galore, Connect the Dots

Taking a lot of people along towards a common goal is difficult, especially when ties are weak and communication is broken and you don't know who are all the people. Towards late 2006 - early 2007, from my perspective, it seemed, everything was going awry.

In BM, a few months earlier we had started drafting a 'constitution' to formalize a rule book for the informal group. Someone was na├»ve enough to think that we were the first such group to do so, I even remember picking up silly arguments over that… A lot of people started quitting for various reasons and I had a lot of trouble keeping up. When Santhosh (then employed at a PSU, now full-time AAP activist) who used to lead the drafting team quit, the mantle fell on Abhijit (then a civil services aspirant) and me. Everything seemed to be up for debate why the name Bhumi, why did we register Bhumi and in Chennai, specific clauses of the rules drafted several months before, our intent etc.


What made matters worse was a lack of clarity on who was raising questions and why. People who seemed to have become inactive were suddenly popping up to raise questions or share their thoughts. I seemed to be performing an important responsibility. But among a virtual, mixed age group of people without strong ties, I felt powerless and crawling in a minefield. Personally too, it was an extremely challenging time and it was quite a roller coaster going down. At times, I had self-doubt whether it was all worth it. During that period, Gyan who was already disillusioned with the national group urged me to focus only on the work we were doing in Chennai and the staunch practical support of my friend Abhijit kept me going.


When I look back at this phase and connect the dots, two aspects of the organisation and its culture stemmed from here. The youth-only age bar protected the fledgeling group as we matured on our own. A strong bias for action came out of an aversion from people who only gave ideas or raised questions.


Have often had you been grateful for the tough times when you connected the dots? Leave a comment.

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO