My wife and I were visiting our relatives who live in a fast developing suburb of Bangalore. Their home like most modern and affluent Indian homes has all the amenities and gadgets and is tastefully done up. Our relatives are doing work that is cutting edge, and are globally integrated given that both their sons are living abroad, working for global corporations. They live in an extremely well maintained apartment complex. It has all the amenities that one would yearn for. The neighbourhood square with its malls and fountains and restaurants was truly amazing. We were really impressed with the global quality of living inside.
It was soon time to leave and head for the airport and catch our flight. That two and half hour ride completely destroyed all the sweet memories we had – traffic jams all the way and the constant worry that we will miss our flight. Once inside the modern airport, it felt truly global once again.
As a consultant and coach my work takes me to the campuses, offices and factories of several large and leading Indian and global corporations. These are always such wonderful experiences. Smart security and reception staff who greet you because they have been informed of your arrival, outsourced housekeeping staff who are constantly polishing the floor and cleaning the rest rooms, liveried staff who serve you endless cups of coffee and tea and hot meals from a long list of options, brilliantly designed office spaces and high-tech conference rooms. Add to this some manicured lawns, patches of green, great food courts, cute looking delis and it feel great. Not to forget the brightest and best minds inside these offices and factories that are doing transformational work with great earnestness. I am always excited about these truly world class experiences.
As I leave these premises and step onto the road, the reality quickly hits me.
I realise that our roads are bearing the brunt of this disjointed model of development. The roads are used for parking scores of vehicles – those in good use and those abandoned. Add to them mounds of garbage that could not be cleared, the homeless who are living there, the hawkers and the traffic snarls and you can imagine the mess. Add a dash of rain and you have an absolute disaster outside.
Having seen this pattern again and again – greatness inside and pathetic conditions outside, I have come to call it “the doorstep development model”. Inside your doorstep – at home or at work or in a mall or a supermarket or Hotel, we are truly world class. Outside your doorstep, the infrastructure from a safety and convenience and cleanliness and environmental perspective could rank among the worst in the world. As a consequence, the problems and associated stress of everyday living is alarming. Getting in and out of any doorstep is an ordeal. Inside the doorstep is an oasis of peace and pleasure.
While I am an optimist I must confess that I do not see this doorstep model changing unless we take radical steps. I do not see the inside and outside existing in harmony anytime in the near future in most of the cities that we believe hold great promise in terms of wealth creation – Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Gurgaon, Chennai, Hyderabad and so on. The recent rains and flood in Chennai, my city has only convinced me that this is the way it will be.
All this raises a few thoughts, wishes and prayers for the years ahead.
Climate change touches my life
Until recently, I frankly saw climate change as an event that is attended by heads of states.
Climate change has now touched (actually rattled) my life.
While global dialogues will keep happening, I now realise that it might be useful to get better at disaster preparation. This struck me hard when the city of Chennai seemed to have run out of candles and batteries and Dettol. Maybe every apartment must have a boat!
I am certainly committed to integrating climate consciousness into my everyday living.
Does work in progress (WIP) mean inconvenience?
In the hope that things will be great in the future, I have had to live with a lot of work in progress over the years: hope of great airports, great roads, world class metro rail systems, flyovers, expressways. I try and tell myself that at the end of all the inconvenience will be some great outcomes. My question is this – if WIP is an inevitable part of our life, can it be done without huge and visible inconvenience? I am sure many nations have figured this out. That is my prayer for the years ahead.
Beauty and aesthetics as a state of mind
One of my friends used to live in a wonderful residential complex in a suburb in Mumbai. However, to get to work he had to navigate through roads and neighbourhoods that were not so pleasing to the eye. I asked him how he managed to live with this contradiction and he said he simply wore dark glasses as he navigated the roads. I am sure many of us crave to live in a city which offers beauty and aesthetics – a lot of greenery, a lot of cleanliness and beauty in the way our modern buildings integrate into nature. This state of yearning gets heightened when you return from an overseas trip!
It is my wish for the years ahead that I succeed in my quest for inner beauty and aesthetics and learn not to sweat the “small stuff”.
Exit, voice and loyalty?
In his book Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States, Albert O. Hirschman argues that there are two types of response to unsatisfactory situations in one’s firm, organization or country. The first is “exit” or leaving without trying to fix things. The second is “voice,” that is, speaking up and trying to remedy the defects.
He argues that Loyalty can modify the response, causing one to stand and fight (voice) rather than cut and run (exit).
India has seen several of its brightest minds choosing the exit option. However, that is still a small minority when viewed in a national context. For most of us, we are loyal to the cities we live in – this is where we belong. It is my hope and prayer for the New Year that we learn to voice our concerns, become more collectivist in a constructive way, find ways to engage with the Government and administration and together find ways to alter the doortstep model that we have descended into.
The manner in which the city of Chennai responded to the floods gives me that hope. I somehow believe that we will discover in us our deep loyalties to our cities and use that to voice and bring about progressive changes.
That indeed is my earnest wish for the New Year!