Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jubilees of the bovine kind

(Cows of IIT grazing outside CSE dept
before KRESIT happened)

Inhabiting a verdant green landscape for most of your working life changes the colour of the glasses through which you view life. All through one's working life one has interacted with the bovine population, like rest of Mumbai interacts with the four wheeler variety, three wheeler variety, and sometimes the two legged variety.

Back in the middle seventies, we were not yet a "brand". There were no real "show" standards. Twenty five years of sweaty summers, heavy monsoons, combined with vague maintenance, had converted the corridors to a dripping labyrinth, where students with uncombed hair, mismatched "hawai" chappals, missed breakfasts, forgotten umbrellas, and unsubmitted assignments, hurried , sometimes late for classes; more so, as they encountered an angry buffalo, head down, horns pointed straight ahead, sauntering towards them with single minded dedication.

I mean, constantly chewing the cud amidst the greenery, traipsing long distances, to meet up with other buffaloes and cows , exchanging notes about pesky troublesome dogs, and newly cleared , now unavailable, green patches on campus, can get a trifle boring.

If you are of the bovine kind, that is.

Suddenly folks started noticing us. Visitors increased. Every now and then we would see the advent of a high tech anti cow/buffalo device. We have several gates , which I suspect , exist for the sole purpose of closing at odd times, so people can jump over them. Several such gates , at a non trivial cost were modified with, what I was told is a Buffalo deterrent grill. A metal grill fixed on the road , in which the buffalo was supposed to get stuck as it placed its hoof on it. I am not sure whether they have standards for buffaloes. Obviously , a high tech institute has high tech buffaloes with super high-tech feet. One could see several of them routinely strolling over the grill, chewing to themselves, flicking tails at imaginary flies, as they sauntered towards newer department buildings, wondering how long they could outwit the technologists.

Then watchmen were given terribly low tech implements called lathis, and asked to chase errant buffaloes who dared to appear in the path of a "learned" population. The corridor was a favourite arena for driving them out. But I also remember the time, in the middle seventies, when the keepers of our security, stood in polished splendour, as an Ambassador car drove through the corridor from Chemical Engg to Central Library, carrying some Russian dignitaries, who probably could not wait to see the Russian mainframe we were using them. Students , employees and cows, often the target of shoo-ing security, stood by in stunned , open mouthed disgust.

Then there was the time, when a huge herd of buffaloes and cows, had just about had it, wandering for greens and running from lathis, and just sat down , in the middle of the road that runs from the main gate, and turns at the guest house. It was very impressive, cows coming home at dusk, and resting their tired bodies, fairly invisible in the frequently failing electric road lights, as two legged and two-wheeler types dodged around them. It was almost as if they were having a meeting.

Well, that's what happens when they inhabit an academic institute. Mindsets change.

No amount of lathi based cajoling worked, giving a well deserved victory to the original inhabitants of the campus.

Life has become tough since then. Leopards have threatened their space. The bovine society is alarmed over the attacks on its members in the black of the night. Like they heard on TV as they grazed in the semidarkness outside some flats at Hillside, crime in Mumbai has increased. A sign of the times.

So it was with great wonder that i noticed this cool November morning, around sunrise, a hefty buffalo, sitting is solitary splendour in the well appointed, landscaped grounds of the Kanwal Rekhi School of IT, nonchalantly chewing away, with nary a look at the several security types, trying to make it get up and leave. A great image opportunity after 50 years of combat between the two legged and four legged types. And the location was perfect. High Tech, meets low-take.

A raised lathi, and a tentative abusive command elicited a disdainful sneeze, a dismissive look from heavily lidded eyes, a flick of the tail at a pesky fly, and the animal continued its rumination, probably contemplating ,on the next paper it would publish in the Bovine Annals of Technology titled, "Making it to the golden jubilee : reminences of the bovine kind......."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

management by obstruction

No, that is not the title of the latest book by Peter F. Drucker or C. K. Pralhad.

Its my realization of a new theory after observing things around me.

Mr Drucker hit the nail on the head when he said things like , "“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work”, or "Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven't".

Accompanying an elderly illiterate pensioner to open a bank account in one of India's nationalized banks, in a decently big city, in bank premises studded with LCD screens, banners, snaking queues of people at counters manned by folks preening about passwords, I was aghast to hear that the elderly gent was supposed to have PAN card before he could appear as a record in their database. The attitude of the lady sitting under a sign saying "may I help you", was anything but. Here was a guy, whose pension did not suffice even for his monthly groceries, and he walked huge distances to save on transportation. And he is supposed to have a PAN card, which, until then , as i understood, was a means of keeping track of tax payers.

I was given the impression that even if the lady , as a special favour , entered our data, the "system" would not create an account unless you had a PAN number. This was followed by a smirk, probably expecting us to be technologically disabled out of fear of what Intel did Inside. The lady was unaware of write rights, screen access rights, and the fact that someone above her could possibly handle a non-PAN case easily . In fact banks have a set procedure for such non-PAN cases, with or without computers. That we went to another bank,, and got the needful done , is another matter.

But it then occurred to me that this was a way for the bank lady to manage her workload. OBSTRUCT people. Create fewer newer accounts. Particularly if it looked like their balance was likely to barely hit 4 digits at the end of the month. Weed out such people. Manage by obstructing undesirables.

Police supervising traffic out on the dug up roads outside IIT also "manage by obstructing". Standing on the side of the road, ever since a cop standing on the divider was hit and injured by a speeding vehicle, they get fatigued waving their arms. Traffic gets regulated by local residents trying to cross the road in one piece. The most dangerous are the easily maneuverable two wheelers. The cops specialise in "obstructing" two wheelers, which are then gently waved to one side, and asked to show their "particulars". Most times some other paper things also change hands. I have stood , aghast, 4 feet away and watched, mouth open, only to get a diesel fume blast in my face from a passing truck. Serves me right, I suppose. Who am I to "obstruct" these going ons. The cops continue to "manage by obstruction". Reduces the two wheeler congestion. Yes. Of course.

This was absolutely brought home to me, when i visited the rationing office for a modification to my ration card. After peering through various windows suffering from fading signage, and getting appropriate entries made here and there, i was asked to go round the back and present the stuff to someone for their exquisite illegible signature, which completed the process.

At a three feet wide door above 3 broken cement steps (without a landing , naturally, to obstruct folks from standing there ), there loomed an officer of the law. He stood with one foot down and one foot stretched out in front, resting on the other side of the door, in the finest demonstration of "obstruction" I had ever seen.

"Yes ?" a query and a bored look.

"I need a signature from XYZ" followed by a look at the "obstructed" door.

I was kind of debating whether to hurl myself over the "hurdles" in the finest P T Usha tradition, or bend and sneak in .

An elderly gent inside took the decision away from me. He cleared his throat. The "obstruction" was lowered. I sailed in while the officer of the law pretended he wasn't there in the first place.

One may "manage by obstruction". Ever heard of "management by dithering of laryngeal muscles" ?