Bhaag Middle-class Bhaag

6 Sep

Kamlesh Pandit prodigal son of Pandit family in the Himalayn hills. Family had siblings and uncles in senior positions across government bodies, military, private sectors. There was a history of success and motivation. Indian Institute of Technology was the only place Kamlesh had to study his engineering anything beneath was a failure at the first step. Similarly when it came to management studies it had to be from Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. Kamlesh did what he had to do. Hindustan Lever, that was the name those days, picked Kamlesh as one of the highest paid placements that year. Kamlesh proved to be a brilliant management trainee. He quickly moved up in the ranks. Became product manager. Brilliant that Kamlesh was he came up with innovative ideas of sales and marketing. A gold coin to be placed in the bar of Lux soap. When you take bath, as the soap melts there appears a shining gold coin. Lux, luminescence. Lux clean and pure and shining. Lux with gold coin. Brand position was fitting perfect. Unilever management backed the idea. Gold coin in Lux was a big success. India had just lost an engineer trained at its premier engineering institute.

Thanks to high IQ salesmen the country country saw a huge surge in mortgage, swanky cars, white goods, real estate boom and price escalation. When base is low any marginal change appears to be a enormous on percentage scale. Country posted year after year of high single digit growth rates. Punters used to growth rate of two percentage called it India booming, India shining. Has it been really booming or just catching up a bit. Has India created a threshold to scale next levels of heights.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s latest movie ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’ is an excellent syllogism. Mid last century with turbulent beginnings, a fight for survival, with skills that get recognized but a defeat to start with. You have an option. You set your goal. Go about it with discipline and zeal, train hard and victory is yours. Protagonist Milkha is any common Indian man who got into the race because he wants extra glass of milk. Any common Indian man who breaks leg of another potential threat. Any common Indian man who jumps lanes in traffic and clogs whole artery of express ways. Any common Indian man who jumps out of his seat even before aircraft comes into halt, takes out his mobile phone and makes some highly important sounding phone calls in loud noise. For that extra glass of proverbial milk.

There are many Milkhas going around. Some paused at the childhood glory of becoming part of a gang with a knife in hand. Some further moved to find a heart throb and a military job. Some ran a distance for milk. A few more went for the blazer. A fewer still got medals. Incremental effort to each next level is higher. It is a choice where you pause. It is a choice whether you want that medal, whether you want that world record or whether you want to take those extra strides and sweat more. The choice is well depicted in a billion people gaining lowest per capita medals in Olympics. An Indian justification for this low Olympics medals tally is we are dedicated for studies, we produce engineers and doctors. We are short and weaker in body but our brains are much equipped. We contribute to the field of information technology, pharmaceuticals. We invented ‘zero’. Well I would agree to that, we indeed invented zero.

Sony, Panasonic, Lenovo, Baidoo, LG, Samsung, Tiger balm, Rolex, BMW, Jaguar, Google. Countries that created wealth created organizations, created world class products and services, created brands. We created Infosys, Wipro, Satyam – how many beyond our shores know them. We created low cost body shops no products or services be it in much famed IT or Pharmaceuticals. We lied to ourselves and everyone else on Pharmaceutical research pipeline for twenty years, not a single molecule came out let alone be block busters (at last count there was one molecule, which I doubt will take off). We happily copied innovations and disrespected patents. We created a disastrous Tata Nano. Our much famed IIT + IIM fraternity sold soaps for multinationals. A few others went into dosa making and auto-rikshaw service and got themselves a few articles in local business magazines. That final cutting edge, that Olympic medal in the sphere of info tech or business or any other field – where is it my friend?

Boda, Bala, Harsha, Raviraj, Shreeranga, Sapan, Rupa D, Nilima, Brian, UD, MYV, VJ, GNN, RP, Pratima, Benazeer. These are some of the celebrated classmates, colleagues, faculty that I might have come across time and again. What happened to them. Why I do not see any of them there on top, in the tally of Olympic gold medals of their sectors. Is it too hard? Needs too much of an effort and dedication?

SBI, HLL, Tata, Birla, Mahendra, ICICI, HDFC, Reliance. They are the top local Indian companies with no ranks changed among them for decades. No new entrants. No exits. Whatever happened to our jugadu Indian enterpreneuer. Whatever happened to much famed Marwari brain. Mind you even new industry participants like info tech or telecon has old houses with new names.

Prasanna a passionate executive working overseas was in Mumbai, staying at Hotel Orchid near airport. He chose the hotel because it was near domestic airport. Because it belonged to family of Rangappa Kamath some old fond memories. Some partial ‘amchegele’ feeling, being a half Konkani guy. This morning he was walking out of his gym towards elevator. There was smoke all along the corridor. He walked further, there were four masked fire fighters coming out of kitchen. It was about six thirty in the morning. Given the pace of India, fire must have started at least a couple of hours earlier. Fire fighters were called who came and took control of the fire, while it smoked all along the corridors, while no smoke alarms rang. Prasanna asked the hotel executive nearby what happened, there was no clear response. When pressed the executive told Prasanna to speak with the manager. The manager did not reply clearly either. Prasanna got authoritarian in his voice. Manager told the security guard nearby, ‘Saab ko check out karaa do’ (get this gentleman check out of the hotel). Prasanna posted in his facebook, the story and said this is what happens in ‘fuckin India’. There was an uproar on his facebook, not on the incidence but that he used f word and India together. Read my article on depreciation of rupee and how we are responsible; Chethan Bhagat a renowned author tweeted how ‘Rupee is getting raped’. There was a huge brickbatting at Chethan Bhagat.

Whats wrong guys? Are we the Japanese ‘Sanzaru’ the proverbial monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil, spoke no evil and did no evil? Are we lethargic Milkhas who ran an initial lap and paused midway, need to be reminded that there is milk at the end of the full distance albeit pain in the process. Whatever it is, important is to realize that we have a say, a power, a capability to design today and to change the course of history.

Let us analyze this typical business executive with a huge title. He is in his early fifties, started as a sales executive got promoted along the line and now a managing director. His shirts are whiter than others around him. He shaves his bald head every day. He has big mustaches which he oils every night. He wakes up on a Sunday goes jogging, dismantles his gun cleans it and assembles it back, gets massage, goes for a bike ride followed by a Hindi movie. His profile pictures have guns on them. He travels all over the world on business. The moment the plane lands he makes phone calls and sends emails. He walks into his meeting rooms with hard heeled shoes that make sound announcing his arrival. He patronizes, he gets angry. He remembers numbers and follows up. There are many astounding things in his organization, attributed to him. Isn’t this the business executive we want to be? The life, the charisma, the effectiveness. That eagerness to show our presence. Those loud calls from airplanes and lounges. Those shiny shirts. Those Tumi bags and smaller Tumis on top. His organization closed operations in Russia, making losses in Brazil, made losses in South Africa, losing grounds in Asia well there is a reason and explanation for each of these misses. In not being honest about this executive we act as Sanzaru, the proverbial monkey.

Rana bought this piece of property in Haryana. The developer cheated him, did not honor a certain credit note that he had to pay. Rana is an engineer and MBA who worked in California for years before returning to India. He would not budge. Rana went to file an FIR and typical of police in India, the FIR was not filed. Rana moved to the court filed a case against the police for not registering the FIR. A smooth open business transaction of credit note needs to be honored by moving to court. A typical real estate developer assumes and expects no action. A credit note is worth the paper unless Rana moves to judicial court. This is our country. On one hand we are Rana’s/ On the other hand we brick bat anyone who takes up an issue. Further we take the role of the real estate developer on an other context. We become the managing director with shining shirts and Tumi bags with no accountability. We are like water, take shape and color at our convenience. This middle class with no participation, with no zeal to win the medal, lethargic. Can this middle class change the course of history. Can this middle class win Olympic medals. Can this middle class win Nobel prizes. Can this middle class give a Google and Microsoft. Isn’t this middle class responsible for dismal political, economical situation in this country just by being indifferent, just by being a Sanzaru.

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