10 November 2008

Bengali ABCD

This is another gem on Bengalis… Enjoy…

“A” for …

A is for Awpheesh (as in Office). This is where the average Kolkakattan goes and spends a day hard(ly) at work. And if he works for the “West Bengal Gawrment” he will arrive at 10, wipe his forehead till 11, have a tea break at 12, throw around a few files at 12.30, break for lunch at 1, smoke an unfiltered cigarette at 2, break fortea at 3, sleep sitting down at 4 and go home at 4:30. It’s a hard life!

B is for Bhision. For some reason many Bengalis don’t have good bhision. In fact in Kolkata most people are wearing spectacles all the time

C is for Chappell. Currently, this is the Bengali word for the Devil, for the worst form of evil. In the night mothers put their kids to sleep saying, æNa ghumaley Chappell eshey dhorey niye jabeö

D is for Debashish or any other name starting with Deb-. By an ancient law every fourth Bengali Child has to be named Debashish. So you have a Debashish everywhere and trying to get creative they are also called Deb, Debu, Deba with variations like Debanik, Deboprotim, Debojyoti, etc. thrown in at times.

E is for Eeesh. This is a very common Bengali exclamation made famous by Aishwarya Rai in the movie Devdas. It is estimated that on an average a Bengali, especially Bengali women, use eeesh 10,089 times every year. “Ei Morechhey” is a close second to Eeesh.

F is for Feeesh. These are creatures that swim in rivers and seas and are a favourite food of the Bengalis. Despite the fact that a fish market has such strong smells, with one sniff a Bengali knows if a fish is all right. If not he will say ‘eeesh what feeesh is theesh!’

G is for Good name. Every Bengali boy will have a good name like Debashish or Deboprotim and a pet name like Montu, Bablu, etc. While every Bengali girls will have pet names like Tia, Tuktuki, Mishti, Khuku, etc

H is for Harmonium. This the Bengali equivalent of a rock guitar. Take four Bengalis and a Harmonium and you have the successors to The Bheatles!

I is for lleesh. This is a feeesh with 10,000 bones which would kill any ordinary person, but which the Bengalis eat with releeesh!

J is for Jhola. No self respecting Bengali is complete without his Jhola. It is a shapeless cloth bag where he keeps all his belongings and he fits an amazing number of things in. Even as you read this there are 2 million jholas bobbling around Kolkata- and they all look exactly the same! Note that ‘Jhol’ as in Maachher Jhol is a close second

K is for Kee Kaando !. It used to be the favourite Bengali exclamation till eeesh took over because of Aishwarya Rai (now Kee Kando’s agent is trying to hire Bipasha Basu)

L is for Lungi – the dress for all occasions. People in Kolkata manage to play football and cricket wearing it not to mention the daily trip in the morning to the local bajaar. Now there is talk of a lungi expedition to Mt. Everest .

M is for Minibus. These are dangerous half buses whose antics would effortlessly frighten the living daylights out of all James Bond stuntmen as well as Formula 1 race car drivers.

N is for N ishchoi. This is the Bengali word for Obvious . It is the most interesting word in any expression !

O is for Oil. The Bengalis believe that a touch of mustard oil will cure anything from cold (oil in the nose), to earache (oil in the ear), to cough (oil on the throat) to piles (oil you know where!)

P is for Phootball. This is always a phavourite phassion of the Kolkattan. Every Bengali is born an expert in this game. The two biggest clubs there are Mohunbagan and East Bengal and when they play the city comes to a stop.

Q is for Queen. This really has nothing to do with the Bengalis or Kolkata, but it’s the only Q word I could think of at this moment. There’s also Quilt but they never use them in Kolkata.

 R is for Robi Thakur. Many nany years ago Rabindranath got the Nobel Prize. This has given the right to all Bengalis no matter where they are to frame their acceptance speeches as if they were directly related to the great poet and walk with their head held high. This also gives Bengalis the birthright to look down at Delhi and Mumbai and of course ‘all non-Bengawlees’ ! Note that ‘Rawshogolla’ comes a close second !

 S is for Shourav. Now that they finally produced a genuine cricketer and a captain, Bengalis think that he should be allowed to play until he is 70 years old. Of course they will see to it that he stays in good form by doing a little bit of “joggo” and “maanot”

T is for Trams. Hundred years later there are still trams in Kolkata. Of course if you are in a hurry it’s faster to walk.

U is for Aambrela. When a Bengali baby is born they are handed one.

V is for Bhaayolence. Bengalis are the most non-violent violent people around. When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, ôChherey De Bolchhiö but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1979.

W is for Woter. For three months of the year the city is underwater and every year for the last 200 years the authorities are taken by surprise by this!

X is for XÆmas. It’s very big in Kolkata, with Park Street fully lit up and all Bengalis agreeing that they must eat cake that day.

Y is for Yesshtaarday. Which is always better than today for a Bengali (see R for Robi Thakur).

Z is for Jebra, Joo, Jipper and Jylophone.

Category: Humor | LEAVE A COMMENT
2 November 2008

Expense Reductions

This one is nobody’s pleasant subject. Nobody wants to cut expenses. Primarily because most of the time, it deals with the very tough calls of separating valuable employees from the company. Yet, thru this unpleasantness, I believe I have learnt a lot and become a stronger leader. My first big downturn was the Internet bubble crash and now of course we have the whole world crashing 🙁 [As a side note, the current problem is severe and very unpredictable – still it is not the end of the world or even close to the Depression]

Back to the learnings…

What are the first things that get squeezed? Travel, Entertainment, Training and such. While there should be a very tight watch on these, it is not the best thing to go after. For starters, you can usually not squeeze much unless you had a hopeless system of approvals for travel and training. For another, they rarely deliver big numbers.

Assuming you will never go thru only one round of job cuts, I would suggest using the framework of three steps to deal with it:

1. First focus on productivity. Usually, in a growth mode, you will be surprised how we tend to add costs. If you get smart people together in a room, you will be surprised how many good ideas can come up on how to do the same thing smarter and cheaper.

2. Second, focus on stopping doing something. After a few rounds of trying to squeeze productivity, we need to show courage in the face of adversity by prioritizing. And this means making active choices of stopping some work, project etc etc. Usually, this is tougher than the first step since we live in a world where everything is considered high priority.

3. Third, look at structural changes. Break up fixed cost structures (you may need restructuring charges), flatten your organization, relook at other arbitrages (cheaper countries or outsourcing) – just go for larger structural changes.

None of these are easy – but that is the fun of running business. Sometimes you have to figure out how to respond to external changes that you have no control over.

Any learnings you have had personally?


10 October 2008

Leave Letters

A friend of mine sent this to me. Once again, I do not know how real these are, but I found them to be very funny. This is supposed to be a collection of applications for leave (the Indian style) from various employees in some of the outsourced development centers…

Application for Leave
· Infosys, Bangalore: An employee applied for leave as follows:

“Since I have to go to my village to sell my land along with my wife, please sanction me one-week leave.”


This is from Oracle Bangalore: >From an employee who was performing the “mundan” ceremony of his 10 year old son:

“as I want to shave my son’s head, please leave me for two days..”
· Another gem from CDAC. Leave-letter from an employee who was performing his daughter’s wedding:

“as I am marrying my daughter, please grant a week’s leave..”
· From H.A.L. Administration Dept:

“As my mother-in-law has expired and I am only one responsible for it, please grant me 10 days leave.”
· Another employee applied for half day leave as follows:

“Since I’ve to go to the cremation ground at 10 o-clock and I may not return, please grant me half day casual leave”
· An incident of a leave letter:

“I am suffering from fever, please declare one-day holiday.”
· A leave letter to the headmaster:

“As I am studying in this school I am suffering from headache. I request you to leave me today”
· Another leave letter written to the headmaster:

“As my headache is paining, please grant me leave for the day.”
· Covering note:

“I am enclosed herewith…”
· Another one written by a gal:

“Dear Sir: with reference to the above, please refer to my below…”
· Actual letter written for application of leave:

“My wife is suffering from sickness and as I am her only husband at home I may be granted leave”.


· Letter writing:-

“I am well here and hope you are also in the same well.”

Category: Humor | LEAVE A COMMENT
10 September 2008

Thanda Legey Jabey

I am not sure about the source of this but long time somebody had sent this to me to reflect upon the Bengali’s constant vigil against catching cold… Enjoy…

Thanda Lege Jabe

(“You will catch a cold”)

 One phrase every Bengali worth his sweater has grown up with is “thanda lege jabey”. It is the ultimate warning of impending doom, an unadulterated form of existentialist advice. Thanda lege jabey. Thou shalt ‘catch the cold’.

‘Catching the cold’ comes easy to Bengalis. It’s a skill that’s acquired almost immediately after birth. Watch a Bengali baby and you would know. Wrapped in layers of warm clothing even if the sun is boiling the mercury, the baby learns quickly that his chances of survival in a Bengali household depend on how tightly he can wrap himself in cotton, linen and wool. Bengalis have almost romanticized warm clothing, so much so that Bengali art has found eloquent expression in a form of quilt-stitch work called kantha. I’m sure wool-shearers even in  faraway Australia say a silent prayer to Bengalis before the shearing season (if there’s any such season). I’m also sure the very thought of Bengalis sends a chill down the spine of many a sheep.

In winter, the quintessential Bengali’s outfit puts the polar bear to shame. Packaged in at least seven layers of clothing and the head snugly packed inside the queerest headgear, the monkey cap, he takes the chill head on. Easy lies the head that wears the monkey cap. With a pom-pom at the top,  it’s not just a fashion statement; it’s a complete fashion paragraph.

I remember strolling down the Walk of Fame in Hollywood on a pleasant May evening. My eyes scanned the glittering stars on the asphalt – each an ode to a Hollywood heavyweight. Suddenly, my ears caught the unmistakable Doomsday warning – ‘thanda lege jabey’. I stood transfixed. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is probably the last place one would like to get caught ‘catching the cold’. I turned around.There was this Bengali family braving the American chill. The young brat of the family was adamant that he didn’t want any more clothing but mom wouldn’t have any of it – “sweater porey nao, thanda lege jabey.” I need not translate that. Mom won, and the family – sweaters et al – posed for a photograph.

For a race that is perpetually running scared of cold weather, Bengalis have a surprising affinity for hill stations.

Probably, warmth of heart is best preserved in shawls, pullovers and cardigans. In an age when you are judged by how cool or uncool you are, the warmth that the kakus, jethus and mashimas exude can melt icebergs. I wouldn’t trade that warmth for any amount of cool. However, the monkey cap may look cool without the pom-pom.

1 September 2008

Powell on Leadership

I am sure you have come across a lot of literature on leadership. If you had any doubts how difficult true leadership is, just look at the number of books written on it 🙂 Most of the literature has a couple of good ideas and then a lot of pages so that they can actually make a book out of it.

However, there is a presentation I came across about 10 years back. A colleague of mine passed it on to me. It is a 20 -odd slides presentation from Colin Powell titled “A Leadership Primer”. I love it so much that I go thru it even today – at least once a quarter. Once in a while, when I find myself getting dragged into corporate politics, I go back and read the slides again. It is a great pick-me-upper.

I guess the reason I have liked the presentation so much is because

(*) it makes some very bold statements
(*) the examples and explanations are to the point and focused (that is why it is a slide, not a chapter in a book)
(*) it gives the best definition of Leadership I have found till date.

I would strongly recommend that you go thru it at your convenience when you get some time. Here is a website that has the slides: http://www.blaisdell.com/powell

Here is a quick run thru of the titles:

1. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off
2. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
3. Don’t be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.
4. Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
5. Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
6. You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
7. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don’t shrink from doing so just because you might not like what you find.
8. Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
9. Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.
10. Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
11. Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.
12. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
13. Powell’s Rules for Picking People: Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
14.Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
15. Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
16. The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
17. Have fun in your command. Don’t always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you’ve earned it. Spend time with your families. Corollary: surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.
18. Command is lonely.

and my most favorite…

“Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible”.


17 August 2008

Judging Talent

No doubt, you are called to appraise people’s performance once or twice a year and in the process, have to pitch in your commentary about talent of some of your subordinates. I have heard of certain companies truly understanding and building talent. I cannot honestly admit that I have seen a lot of them. Some are more disciplined than others – definitely some are more serious about it than others.

The process is far more nuanced than the forms that you fill up on strengths, weaknesses, development and so on and so forth. The more sophisticated ones use the 9-box from “War for talent” or some variation of the same to differentiate the past from the future (potential). And some go many more steps further.

After watching such processes in quite a few companies over the last 20 years or so, here are some observations from my side. If you are a senior manager / executive, it would be interesting to keep these points in mind:

1. At the end of the day, there is a lot of subjectivity in the process. All HR processes, rationalizations, 360 degrees are great attempts to bring some objectivity to the process but at the end of the day when you try to summarize a complex set of human behavior into a few bullet points of positives and negatives, undoubtedly, broad brush and stereotyping will get in. Just admitting that will perhaps force you to think many more times.

2. A small set of data points play an overwhelming role in the final judgment. Good or bad, a few interactions, somehow lead us to form deeply rooted convictions. The underlying O.B. theory is that, as humans, we try to simplify our views of people or events – rather than care to have a lot of nuanced views. I have seen a lot of managers give one or two data points to make their case – and then struggle like hell when asked for a few more data points. Ensure that you have enough data points to back your view. You will surprised how you have formed opinions based on what you have heard or your first interaction etc etc.

3. An ideal talent process should take into account the “end state” to decide the strengths and the gaps. Too often managers write strengths and weaknesses by focusing on the variance between some target that they have in their mind and the appraisee in question. Needless to say, this is one way subjectivity gets injected. But rarely have I seen a manager understand what the employee wants to be eventually and then work backwards from there to accentuate the strengths and develop the gaps. [This is somewhat like a football coach wanting to make a quarterback of everybody!!]

4. Finally, we as humans, far over-rate our ability to judge talent. This gets even more dangerous as managers rise up due to their business strengths and by virtue of that position is now called upon to be the “judge” of talent in their organization. HR needs to play a very strong role in this. Even in “rationalization” sessions, care should be taken to ensure that the highest ranked manager’s view is freely and frankly challenged.

I would be interested in hearing from you some of the great talent development processes or ideas that you have seen (or not seen for that purpose).