Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Narayana Murthy : Exemplar Leadership

Today I happened to be arguing with my cousin on who qualifies for being called a 'leader'.We use that word, almost exclusively, to denote politicians. These are bad days for capitalism and for businessmen in general, their 'stock', pun unintended, is at its lowest ebb, somewhat justifiably but mostly as just scapegoats for toady politicians who strut about as 'leaders'.

I found an interview of Murthy by Vir Singhvi (formerly editor of 'The Week') and it was quite an impressive slice of Murthy's wonderful personality. Like any Indian in the 70's he too was leftist but after arrested for speaking to a fellow passenger in Yugoslavia he experienced 'communism' first hand then turned a new leaf thankfully.

Its the second part of the interview that interested me more. The lore of starting Infosys with Rs 10,000, building it to a billion dollar company on sterling ethical standards is all too well known. Murthy, unlike the Ambani's, became an icon not only because he made wealth but because he did it with the highest possible unimpeachable ethical standards. Not a single case of tax evasion or bribery or evidence of twisting the rules. All this in India. Ambani's were the exact opposite. Of course the Tata's and Birla's too fall in the same class as Murthy but since they, unlike Murthy, were wealthy for generations they did not have the 'halo' of rising up from being 'lower middle class'.

What I found admirable in the man was that none of his children are in any top posts in Infosys. In fact they are specifically prohibited from parachuting in.Murthy also stated that the wives of the founders, though they were extremely qualified, were explicitly prohibited from any role in the company to avoid charges of nepotism. Murthy, practically brags that every building of Infosys was built without violating ANY municipal laws. Executives of Infosys fly economy class. He plans to curtail the inheritance f his children, just like Bill Gates. His philanthropic attitude is NOT a pre-requisite to appreciate him but it sure is good.

What sets apart Murthy from the Tata or Premji is how he could state bluntly that what India needs is "creation of wealth NOT distribution of poverty" and build his company around that philosophy. For the first time India witnessed a businessman making no apologies for capitalism, no apologies for making profits. Nehru is supposed to have told Tata that profit is a dirty word and India went to the dump for 40 years. The term "info-millionaires" came into being thanks to him. No politician in the past 20 years could claim to have uplifted families like Murthy did. Of course Murthy was not doing charity to his emplyees. Its a symbiotic relationship. He was not a parasite like a politician. When it came to charity he does it out of his pocket unlike politicians.

Murthy and Infosys became icons for creating a company that is rightfully considered "world class" and, to belabor the point, did it honestly. It was with Infosys that India as a "brand" arrived on the world scene. Nobody sought that mantle before him. It was a vision that put India on the global map.

The final part of the interview had interesting info on how he spends Rs 3000 per week on books and his idea of how Western Classical music as fostering team spirit.

Amusingly there is another snippet on youtube where Cho rubbishes the idea of Murthy becoming president owing to his non-participation in public life. I sincerely hope that Murthy is NOT given the Bharat Ratna or the Presidency both would be an insult to Murthy.

The interview links: (Want to be example) (Western Classical etc)

Another famous address of Murthy is his "Learn from the West)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Cheers for Indian Democracy

It is very easy to ridicule democracy in India. India is a showcase for almost everything that is wrong with democracy as a form of government. However India does have very creditable achievements. India, remains only the liberal democracy in that hemishpere. Yes, it may not be liberal enough by US standards which sets the golden standard for liberal democracies.

Indian constituition has the distinction of bestowing universal suffrage right from its first election in 1950. A dalit in India could vote in 1950 while not all Afro-American could vote in US. Of course that was a technicality, in reality many dalits are still challenged from participating in democracy, thanks to the now pseudo-backward classes. Jagjivan Ram, a dalit, was a member of the first Indian cabinet under Nehru. Jagjivan Ram proved one thing that being incompetent and hypocritical is his right as much as it was the upper caste politician's right. In that sense he did achieve equality. India had a Muslim as President decades ago and it had a woman as PM and now a President. Ofcourse Indira's greatest achievement was to show that a woman can be equally ruthless and unscrupulous as any man can be. Jaya took it one step better to show that a woman can outdo any man.

It is the illterate voter who taught Indira Gandhi a bitter lesson. It is easy to ridicule the Indian voter for electing Jaya in 1991 but it was the same voter who gave her a stinging lesson in humility.

We often bemoan the influence of caste in Indian politics but nobody pauses to think how they look for marriage alliances irrespective of educational background. I've seen parents in USA advertise "groom needed for girl, caste name, born in US but brought up with Indian values". JFK had to go to great lengths to show that he as Catholic could be as good as an Protestant president.

The Tamil Nadu voter, in particular, draws lot of fire for falling for cine-charisma, especially with regard to MGR. Lets not forget that Barack Obama and JFK were two people who sailed to the presidency on charisma. This is not to insult Obama and JFK who were well qualified besides being charismatic.

On a more serious note, India has survived as a functioning democracy with the most plural of societies. In 1947 no historian worth his salt gave India much chance to survive, the Balkans was often cited. India still stands as a parliamentary democracy.

700 million voters is more than double the US population. To ensure such a sea of humanity votes orderly is no mean feat. To govern over such a nation with fractured mandate and to show progress is a herculean task.

The Indian constituition has been made a mockery of, 100+ amendments in 50 years. Still it is a visionary document thanks largely to the progressive minded who, not incidentally were mostly Hindu's and especially Brahmins, imparted an eclectic character. Unlike its sibling, Pakistan, India ensured freedom to not just "profess" any religion but very importantly the freedom to "propagate" ones religion. Its a landmark freedom that only minds of the highest caliber could think of and enshrine. Of course India fell short in practice but in ideals it had a good benchmark. It is a distinction that Pakistan could not make and never will make. Pakistan can never have a Hindu President.

Thanks to the egalitarian impulse generated from the Freedom movement, thanks to Gandhi and incidentally to Ambedkar, Dalits were much more legally protected than Blacks in US. Again, in practice India continues to fall short but the reasons are mostly within the community and with the kind of leaders they begot. Reservation of constituencies, started in 1930's with a promise to review is still continuing after 79 years. Reservation in education started in 1950, in some states much before that, supposed to last for only 10 years is still continuing. Discussing that here is not my desire.

Many decry the successive hung parliaments. I welcome it. Yes India has not progressed fast enough due to them but India's progress in many areas is ONLY due to hung parliaments. Tamil Nadu had always given Congress a gift of majority MP seats in TN but never did we get any respect at the center until Jaya showed how power can be wielded. Power can be applied in bad or good ways, she chose the bad way but still she showed the power of an hithreto unkown politician unlike the effete MK . Hung parliament has ensured that states like TN, Andhra get their respect and their due unlike UP, Bihar which are only millstones around India's neck. While good legislation stunbles lets not lose sight that bad legislation also stumbles. In today's scenario Rajiv could not do to Muslim women what he did with his brute majority of 450 MP's ( The Shah Bano case and how Rajiv pushed legislation to deny muslim women alimony, just to appease hard line muslim clerics).

My idea of blogging is not to write thoroughly on subjects, just interestingly, shining a different light and tickling the reader to think further. Thats what a blog is supposed to be, its not a thesis, so I shall leave this discussion here now. Minnesota is still yet to resolve the Senate Race from Nov 2008 election. Well when India elects Pappu Yadav and Phoolan Devi what can one say.

Good Luck India. I'd love to Manmohan back in the helm, but if we want fun then it should be Mulayam or Mayawati. Mayawati will be great fun to watch but it will be a sad day for India.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wynton Marsalis CD and charm of CD sleeve notes.

Recently when I stepped into my favorite book store "Borders" I was apalled to find entire rows of CD/DVD's marked 50% discount. 'Borders' is in deep crisis and they had closed many underperforming stores so I stepped up to an empoyee and asked if they are closing too, the guy insolently answered,without even looking at me "look at the notices posted". The notices said that since buying CD's at stores has declined they are doing away with stocking lot of CD's, especially one that is not a hot album or a recently released label. The notice also complained against music companies that charge heavily for CD's, the competition from online downloading etc. Apple iTunes crossed 1 billion downloads a year ago. One can sample individual tracks and buy just tracks that we like not pay for an entire CD. The music industry is in a churn due to this. Also the recent development of dropping DRM (digital Rights management) has enabled Apple to sell DRM free better sounding music.

I normally pick a CD, listen to a few tracks in the store listening device (only Barnes and Noble provides this). I had earlier listened to Willie Nelson + Wynton Marsalis duo in a wonderful album. Marsalis is a trumpet player (sounds better than trumpeteer). Yesterday in the classics section I saw a CD titled "Classics by Wynton Marsalis" after sampling a few tracks I loved it and bought it.

The sleeve notes had interesting info on a composer little known to laymen like me. The notes said that Marsalis, like most trumpet players, practiced Joseph Jean Baptist Laurent Arban's "bible for trumpet players" and especially the difficult to play "the carnival of venice". That piece is sheer pyrotechnics. Check out

Intrigued by all this info I checked out wikipedia and found that Arban had written the carnival in the lines of what Paganini did for the violin in his "24 Caprices". He wrote that music to prove that the trumpet is a good solo instrument and he wrote it in such a way to bring out the best of the instrument while taxing the player at his/her best virtuosic talent. This also brings to mind Bach's Well Tempered Clavier for the keyboard. All these pieces are sheer joy because they scale the peaks of music by intricately bringing to the fore each instrument's peculiarities, something possible only when music is written FOR the instrument.

With the death of audio CD's and a nicely written sleeve note I doubt if I ever would have embarked on such fact finding. Of course in iTunes one can read up on reviews etc but its not structured and I may have missed this nugget.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Obama's Churchill Comparison.

Barack Obama, to the delight of many, recently repudiated adopting any method that could be deemed as "torture" in interrogations of terrorists. He specifically singled out the notorious "waterboarding" (simulated drowning) method as torture. This was a commitment he made during campaign, to overturn Bush's policies. Of course it is a popular promise. In his inaugural address he railed against a "false choice between security and values". Bush was seated just a feet away, glaring into the heavens.

Obama, in a press conference, talked about this decision and cited an article on Churchill. Maureen Dowd, in her column writes, "he (Obama) said he had been struck by an article describing how Churchill would not torture prisoners even when “London was being bombed to smithereens.”

I am a great admirer of Churchill but as an Indian I have my differences with Churchill. The bull dog warrior thundered in the House of Commons, "I've not become his majesty's first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire". Churchill was most notorious in India for calling Gandhi a "half-naked fakir". During the War every time FDR broached the topic of Independence for India Churchill snubbed him. In speech after speech while he rallied Britons to "fight in the beaches" for "freedom" he never paused to think how the British empire held in slavery one-fourth of humanity. He was not entirely unaware of the evils of communism but found Stalin to be an agreeable partner in the fight against Hitler saying "If the devil fought against Hitler I'd at least give him a favorable commedation".

Yes Churchill did not torture anyone while London was blown to smithereens because he simply did not have a Nazi sitting in London plotting to terrorise the city. In one speech he is both defiant and grotesque, "we do not ask for mercy from our enemies but let it be known that we shall mete out in equal measure what is done to us". Ask the city of Dresden and Berlin. Both were pulverized beyond recognition to the point of revenge, especially the bombing of Dresden.

When Gandhi visited UK, the King met him and so did so many others except Churchill who refused to meet him.

Churchill also did not waver on using weapons of mass destruction on populations he considered inferior.

Churchill is somebody who cannot be quoted without reservation and running into the inherent dangers of using a double edged sword. But then the fawning media has no patience for scholarship when the One speaks.