Posted on 30-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Our society’s most killing missile that prevents us from taking ownership of our lives is to wonder at every step what others will say.

Nandita, a highly educated, 24-year-old working woman, was telling me that her parents will not object to her possible love marriage. Yet they and close family members have overdosed her to be very conscious about whom to choose otherwise “What will people say?” Her core investigation of boys and the big dilemma that comes to her mind when she feels romantically inclined is, “What will others say?” She was expressing that by nature she will not go against her parents in choosing a boyfriend, which amounts to following a pre-determined pattern of who should be her ideal husband. In India’s contemporary situation, she explained in a matter-of-fact way, having an affair need not translate to marriage, an area that’s not under her control. Somehow she was realizing her inner emotional content is getting disturbed. She said she has time upto age 27, but her conversation became indifferent, “With all my restrictions, I may fail in a love marriage, so I have to depend on my parents to find me a bridegroom.”

While doing some research in an Indian village, a farmer’s son was saying their 2-acre land gives them Rs 50,000, while Rs 20,000 is spent on input costs. So with Rs 30,000 for the year it’s impossible to run their 7-member family. Taking his own initiative, he bought a small motorbike and became a mobile barber going to people’s houses to earn money. This brings him nearly Rs 15,000 per month. But his relatives want to disassociate with him. Why? Because they are Brahmins and he’s defiling the family’s image by pursuing a lower caste job.  I really appreciate this courageous spirit of today’s young generation not caring about what people say. After the research I went to his house and found the family living condition was quite comfortable with the money he brings in. He showed me his barber kit. His parents were despondent, wondering how they will marry him off to a Brahmin girl because his entrepreneurship is not acceptable in their community.

My own barrier was not so different. When Mr Jacques Gourdon, owner of the lithography printshop near Paris, very kindly offered me a sweeping job in 1974, I was totally shocked. It was unimaginable. I was from a Bengali bodhiya family. We were extremely poor in India, lived in a refugee colony. But how could I be a sweeper? I’d just arrived in France, knew no French, was penniless and without any job prospect. My growling stomach quickly won over my cultural blocks. I de-conditioned my Indian caste conscious baggage, and graciously accepted the job.

But more mental torture awaited me. My job entailed taking six big dustbins full of used ink cleaning cloth and papers out from my printshop to the road at the end of each working day. That immediately traumatized me. “What if someone saw me?” That this instant fear was ridiculous did not occur to me then. Just imagine the kind of complex I was carrying in my head. Nobody knew me in France then, which Indian would see me or even wonder who I was? How can any acquaintance or neighbor from my Indian village ever know I was here that I had to be careful of, “What will they say?” But psychologically I was very disturbed. Lots of cars and buses ply on the main road, so every time I went outside the door with my dustbins, I used to hide my face to not be recognized as a sweeper in society

After some time, I discovered this anguish to be totally absurd when I found Mr Gourdon was respectfully presenting me to other artists who came to the printshop as a painter from Calcutta. He’d even promote my paintings so I could make some extra money. The artists who’d come to the printshop to make their lithographs never looked down at my sweeping work like we tend to do in India. That broke my whole misconception of what other people will think. I started to boldly say then that my occupation was a sweeper while I was a painter. My morale was boosted when fellow students at my Parisian art college appreciated that I worked hard to support my education and livelihood while undermining themselves that they were studying with their father’s money. So I learnt that worrying about what others will say is the most indecent social education system in our country because it puts you in a cage you cannot break free from.

Just imagine, a cobbler in our country is considered the lowest caste “mochi.” I remember even in my poverty-stricken childhood, my grandmother never allowed me to touch the cobbler when he came to repair a broken sandal. After he left, the place he occupied was cleaned with water. Does it mean our cobbler has no chance of becoming a Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo, the celebrated shoe designers whose hand everyone wants to shake?

“Hats off to you! You don’t care what others will say,” is what people in India often tell me about the bright, holiday colours I wear to work to meet top global corporate managers. Actually I started wearing such colours in France to differentiate myself from the high-flying CEOs I had to mingle with, and didn’t really pay heed to this habit. Until I recently met Nandita and discovered the gravity of the words, “What will people say?”

The enveloping torment that society puts on people of a different caste and creed does not allow us to blossom to our full potential. I hope India’s young generation will ignore such persecution of “What will others say?” and make their careers without boundary, achieve their love life without other’s interference and create their livelihood in every domain with dignity.

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

(3) Comments   
Posted on 23-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Born with innocence, strong socialization moulds human beings to certain cultures. The need to not deviate from societal norms can ruin many a cross-cultural love relationship.

The amazing number of sincere responses to my column on digital technology adding salt to love wounds tells me the problem is dire.  Firstly, thank you my readers for connecting to my writing and permitting me to use your personal experiences. You are proving that it’s not just traditional caste, different states, languages, food habits or innocent Facebook appearances that put spokes into intimate marriage bonding. Look at the numerous weird reasons you have revealed to me of how love marriages can be blocked, snuffing happiness out.

Tech-savvy astrologer: A civil servant’s son and daughter of a family of engineers have been unable to marry for 3 years because of an astrologer’s negativity. These erudite families are evading decision-making responsibility by consulting an astrologer to determine marriage compatibility. It seems disbelieving or contradicting the astrologer is not an option because he uses the latest gadgets and apps to predict situations. Nor is it possible to bribe him, as is a common occurrence in such circumstances, because he’s a family member. The point I’m making here considers far-reaching consequences. Entrepreneurship is already lacking amongst our educated classes, by believing in such filters for children’s happiness we immobilize everyone. Instead of taking confident steps in life we make ourselves dependent on soothsayers, others who flex power muscles, or untoward beliefs in planetary movements we cannot control.

Antibiotic for digital woes: Having astronomical problems for marriage doesn’t mean there’s no solution if you visit the right godman. Watch out digital technology! Meet your match in a Baba who claims to remove “the negative impact that Internet has on young boys and girls.” In Mumbai’s suburban railway service which 7.5 million commuters use to come to work every day, this Baba advertises a cure for any digital technology problem people have. I’m sure many get convinced with such an antibiotic because a Baba plays a magical role in India.

Religious ricochet: An MNC executive said she’s had two different affairs at different times with non-Muslims who later confided they did not propose to her because their families were opposed to inter-religion unions. In her Muslim family, marrying outside the sect is considered a crime where all ties between the family and couple are severed. Her uncle arranged his daughter’s marriage to a Bora Muslim, so his extended family of Sunni Muslims ostracised them. When his other daughter fell in love with a Christian, her uncle insisted he convert to Islam. Even then his extended family boycotted him, stopped him from coming for prayers and will possibly disallow his burial in the community burial ground later. When another niece of this executive confided she had a Punjabi Hindu boyfriend, she excitedly offered to help them marry, but the niece declared, “I don’t plan to marry him. I will just go around with him until I can, and then get married to the guy my mother finds.”

Clan clash: That two 24-year-olds chose to marry is a big ego-punch for the girl’s parents and brother who consider it their birthright to choose her life-partner. Belonging to the same 96 Kuli Maratha clans with different surnames, they’ve known each other since childhood and are waiting 8 years for permission to marry.  He’s a responsible multinational company manager. Her parents threatened to make his life hell unless she stopped talking to him. He’s desperately looking for advice for his next move. Forget everything to get peace or defy her parents with a registered marriage?

Bold steps win: The powerful testimony of another reader who wrote about his 46 years of happy inter-caste, interstate love marriage is a great lesson for our horrible, human-made rituals. “Dear Shombit, It was a great pleasure reading your column in Indian Express. You took me personally back to late sixties. I’m Maharashtrian CKP; my wife a Gujarati Baniya, a shade lower in Hindu caste system. We met at GS Medical College, Mumbai. Fell in love. Decided to marry and then faced more or less the same obstacles as your friend’s brother… except for FaceBook. We are in active medical practice, I’m a very senior (78 years) Gynaecologist and my wife, younger by nearly 5 years, a well-known ENT surgeon. We went to UK to get our Fellowships from respective Royal Colleges of Surgeons. Our marriage has wonderfully lasted for such a happy and prosperous long time only because we had to fight extremely hard against the firmly entrenched social norms like caste, community and silly inhibitions of the feelings of near relatives in match-making. Please tell your friend’s brother to go ahead with his plan to marry his beloved and face the world boldly for what they are doing should be strictly their own business. We both wholeheartedly wish them the best, Dr. Arvind Pradhan, Dombivali.”

Hijacked! A reader from UP who’s had a love marriage with a Bengali, narrated how parents try to own proprietorship over their treasured boys. She said when her 80-year-old father-in-law meets his brothers, they invariably talk of how their sons were “hijacked” into love marriages. After 15 years of marriage into this joint family where she affectionately nurtures her in-laws, her only choice is to express amusement at the hijacking metaphor.

Meddling with human emotion, our most valuable intangible asset, can be quite disconcerting. To not hurt parents, young adults illogically conform: “If I fall in love, I will fall in love with a person of my religion, caste and creed.” Virtual matrimony sites help find dates and spouses, but opposition to love marriages continues in many families. Astrologers provide scientific backup to stop the happiness of people in love, anti-Internet Babas veer us away from opening the windows of the mind, the evils of child marriage or forced social marriage continue. Do nosey relatives and co-conspirators create stodgy social dogma for couples to lead a life without emotion?

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express


(0) Comments   
Posted on 16-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Stressful is his joint family life due to his brother’s love affair. My soft-hearted friend was trying his best to iron out the social wrinkles leading to his brother’s marriage, but impediments are many.

The deep-in-love protagonist couple both work in a foreign company in the IT services industry. The barriers to tying the knot? They are from two different Indian states so speak different languages; he is an upper caste Brahmin, she of a lower caste whereas both follow Hindu traditions. Even being of Indian origin, I have never understood this man-made caste hierarchy. The Hindu way of life is so humane, without any dogma or any system to convert people like other religions have, yet caste puts a disgraceful black spot on it. To me it seems a critical, chronic problem in today’s day and age. When the country is growing and trying to dominate the world stage, internally we are continuing to trample on one another for social supremacy without any basis.

My friend is the elder brother; he had himself followed the arranged marriage system. His parents first found compatibility with his in-laws’ family. That means they were all Brahmins, of similar social status and Indian state so speaking the same language and eating the same kind of food. His parents chose the girl to be his bride; he met her, there was instant good chemistry between them, she is an executive in a company and they are very happily married. The arranged marriage has a few changed rules now. Before the economic reforms, a housewife was preferred, but today a working woman has a better position in a joint family. In another instance, the parents of another friend of mine from Jodhpur met 43 families during 18 months to select his bride. He married with 44th one.

Now the brother’s inter-caste, inter-state love marriage was looking catastrophic, but my friend has stepped in to make his brother happy. When he discussed with me I appreciated his elder brotherly support to enable this marriage. His wife too is wholeheartedly taking the young couple’s side to make this marriage happen. This is the new, open-minded generation. My friend and his wife met his brother and girlfriend to assure them they have support. He is trying hard to convince all extended family members to accept this marriage. Their mother is the most difficult cookie, being highly influenced by her own brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. This kind of social misbehaviour puts my friend off. His brother is frustrated because he does not want to hurt anyone or break away from his joint family to start a nuclear home. Finally, my friend and his wife managed to convince the mother; things settled down with the mother preparing for her younger son’s marriage.

Isn’t it ironic that we proudly say India is a secular democracy, we are Indians first, there’s unity in our diversity. But in practical life our true colours show. Two young working adults in love from adjacent states can face such distress and indecent, socially created rules inspite of being Hindus with no religious dogma. Both are working in responsible jobs dealing with global clients and both have similar working environment, personal friends and social circles.

For a few months I heard nothing and have been waiting for an invitation card, when suddenly a big problem erupted because of FaceBook.

His mother’s family opposed to this marriage now got evidence that the girl “drinks alcohol” which is among the worst “crimes” imaginable in traditional Brahmin families. They saw a picture of hers in FaceBook visiting UB City. The bride-to-be’s friend had posted their group picture in her Facebook page having dinner with her colleagues. Bangalore’s UB City is among India’s most sophisticated shopping malls housing luxury products retails like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Armani, Rolex, Paul Smith among others, and a posh terrace of world cuisine restaurants. This opulent mall belongs to United Breweries, the beer and liquor company, and hence the conjecture that the girl was partying here with liquor. The problem is that traditional family folk associate such a premium place first with drinking alcohol. In actual fact, she’s a teetotaller!

My friend’s mother is very emotional, gullible and traditional. She was shown this picture of the innocent girl celebrating a colleague’s promotion.  The family of my friend’s mother who’d become unhappy since this girl was about to be accepted into the family, obviously kept tabs on her activities. This Facebook picture eating in a restaurant was the perfect ammunition to discredit the girl and say to the mother-in-law to be, “I told you so!” The mother was so disturbed she would just cry continuously.

Each time my friend repairs the situation with his mother, somebody or the other tries to break the marriage: lower caste, speaking a different language, belonging to a different state, then FaceBook added salt to that by raising the googly of alcohol. I’ve never understood what they can gain from bringing unhappiness. The young couple aged 29 and 28 years is getting frustrated. He is considering accepting a foreign assignment to get away from it all, she is under pressure from her family because according to Indian family tradition she has crossed the marriageable age.

If you look at today’s armchair virtual screen revolution, it is without a clear purpose and objective. Boasting of thousands of friends on a social networking site like FaceBook amounts to useless virtual masturbation where even physical pleasure is missing. Uploading personal pictures on FaceBook of enjoying yourself with friends or on holiday serves to upload human privacy. In India Facebook seems to have become an instrument of espionage for the older generation, particularly in marriage areas. When somebody says “I have 10,000 Facebook friends,” I’ve never understood what it means. It this the fiber of social distress? I have suggested a creative idea to my friend which I cannot disclose now. I promise you my readers, once marriage happens I’ll let you know.

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

(0) Comments   
Posted on 09-11-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Thriving on customer dissatisfaction seems to be the hallmark of “digi-tech” service. You buy a phone package that offers hundreds of free text messages, but come Diwali or Christmas and you get a message they’ll charge for the greetings you send on that day. Forgot to close your data service when travelling abroad? You’ll be slapped a big bill! When your private bank has just raised the minimum balance amount, and you don’t have the minimum savings required, they’ll slowly take away your savings as penalty. You’ll never know about it until you visit that bank account you’ve not operated for some time.

Service operators have immense faith in e-service believing no human touch/feel interface delivers great customer service. How wrong can they be! Digi-tech can only solve the program that has been set. Have you experienced getting ripped off because of being unaware of 2G/3G mobile phone service availability when crossing inter-state borders? On landing you can message your client about your flight delay, but you find out the message was never delivered. Text messages don’t go when 3G is not available or works only intermittently. But e-service is so insensitive, it does not bother to inform you about re-adjusting your phone to 2G. Human contact is required in so many areas in the service industry, just going gaga over automation is not a solution.

Digital technology is killing the service industry’s customer centricity. A day’s delay in payment and you can be sure the telephone service provider’s representative will call you even without checking before disturbing you whether they have received the payment by that time. The way text messages junk your mail saying “Ignore if already paid.” Somebody else updates the receipts, the call centre person is merely prompted by the digital board to make that call.

On the other hand, whenever you as a premium customer call for specific service, you will be sent into multiple labyrinths of code to find the right person to solve your problem. Invariably you find no one at the other end, as though the problem is yours alone to carry and coddle because a set digi-tech program cannot be controlled by an operator, you have to go to the source code.

Making love or giving affection cannot be done without human touch. In the same way, the service industry requires extreme human touch. The priority of most Indian mobile phone operators is getting the license and putting up the tower. These are hygiene factors for a mobile phone user.  Whatever you develop in digi-tech, if your relationship with your customer is not humanized, you will never optimise your business to be sustaining, your business will become a fossil.

IT service industry to become the skeleton: Millions of our IT software programmers in the thousands of sophisticated development centers set up in India are doing piecemeal work. Many young IT service employees I’ve met have expressed their utter frustration working in the isolated island of software coding. At work they have little idea what purpose they are solving. They get a decent salary but their daylong digital coding job makes them feel like human robots. The developed country customer would have designed a product or solution, and farmed out the tedious code writing part to our IT service providers. So the IT engineer working on the project is often unaware of where his output will be used, nor what the final product is. He’s just a cog in the wheel, like an aggregate in any device, without a clue of where his hard work will be used. Nor does he care really because he’s signed up to just do this specific action. Will this situation sustain? What they tell me is developed country customers consider them as IT service coolies.

As IT service is an essential commodity product like electricity or water supply that you cannot do without, competition in the IT service industry will accelerate. Developing countries will be rationed out the developed countries’ outsourcing largesse, while the purchase cost of these services will keep plummeting. Unless Indian companies have the vision to use digi-tech as its backend skeleton and start developing flesh on this skeleton such as solving the client’s business solution, their survival will be at stake. Nor will they make any remarkable difference tomorrow. Additionally, shortage of manpower is making developed countries invent many new techniques to reduce and replace the human interface. So in the new way of working in this field, digital technology will reach its matured phase of obviously becoming the skeleton.

Where digi-tech cannot be replaced: Of course digi-tech has helped tremendously in our daily lives. Families and friends globally are coming together with whatsapp, voice/video via viber/skype. Where digi-tech makes huge contribution are the medical, steel, supply chain logistics, banking and aviation industries among others. Industrial backend automation in areas like manufacturing requires uncompromising application of digital technology to avoid human error. Take the food industry where consistency of quality is not negotiable. The heavy use of manpower in processed food manufacturing is totally wrong. Individual peculiarity and interpretation in the assembly line does not add any value to customers who buy the products because lack of discipline erodes the consistency, quality and output of the products. I don’t know either it has been done for using manpower or for less investment on automation. In developed countries robotics is highly used to ensure predictability for in food processing for better public health.

Just see how Disney addresses entertainment for the masses. When you go to Disneyland you don’t interface with digital technology even as their backbone is extremely digitalized.  There’s no technical transaction, just humanized entertainment. Even the backend janitor’s job is performed by Disney animals like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy who play and pose for pictures with visitors even as they manage automated cleaning systems to keep the park clean and customer friendly.  Without human interface, the digitally driven service industry can become fossilized tomorrow.

To download above article in PDF, Click here : “Digital Fossil

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express


(0) Comments   
Posted on 02-11-2014
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Beginning of the digital graveyard by 2025: In my observation of the world, the digital graveyard is imminent from 2025 onwards. A new art revolution is likely to emerge, ideating with the blend of brush, mind and vibrant colours to focus on canvas that portrays the next level of the artist’s imagination for society’s future upliftment, just as the Dada movement from Eastern Europe happened exactly a century ago. That was a rebellion against war and society. Since the Internet started, the concept of digital art has proliferated. Software tutors a person to make digital images where originality is barely there, destroying human creativity.

By 2025 people will shift from being zombied armchair travelers on the Internet’s virtual screen to physically travel more for tangible discovery, to enjoy different cultures. By 2025 developed countries will bring the revolution of designing the human interface of any product or service to be warm, vibrant and inviting like flesh that will sit on a digital skeleton. This physical touch seduction and feel will inspire innovation in the urge for the next.

Art of mechanical edge: Gramophone, the first musical reproduction entertainment instrument from the last century, had hallucinating design edge. Instrument styles were recognizable, they were very different country-wise, and even within competitors in a country. Using the same mechanical function, these delivered outstanding craftsmanship before electrical devices arrived around1924. But the customer interface of all current digital products look similar, with barely any distinction among them. Due to digital technology, the output will be the same too, so how does the industry differentiate low to high pricing? At least in a low to high cost automobile, you can enjoy the basic to luxury difference due to engine, speed, quality and fit and finish. In a mobile handset though, it’s difficult to understand the logic of price differentiation hierarchy.

Mobile phones or tablets are like varieties of rice: Huge R&D spends make the screen size a few inches big or small, there’s an overdose of digital gimmicks with no rationale between need vs. the unnecessary. Like varieties of rice new launches come every six months confusing your 2 hands, 2 eyes and one brain. When you travel to a foreign country and forget to switch off mobile data, you suddenly get a bill of Rs.  50,000 -1 lakh on returning to India. Totally surprised you can complain to the service provider saying you did not use such data abroad, the answer you’ll get is your apps were continuously updating your mobile device. Should the customer get cheated for owning a costly phone and not being trained on its umpteen features? The manufacturer and service provider happily made this lollipop for the masses to suck and be fooled. But the day is coming that’ll send all these things to the digital graveyard.

TV set fooling us: Cumbersome and cubical, yesterday’s TV set takes too much space; bigger the screen, larger the cube. That’s all changed with digital innovation. Now TVs are slim, with better picture quality and super advantage of wall fixing, saving space. Then came further innovation, curved Panavision TV. Taking you back to occupying the same cubic space at home without further benefit, such torturous innovation after frivolous innovation is discrediting the digital world, blaming it of befooling customers to spend money.

Commoditization: The interface of digital products is getting totally commoditized due to its linear character. Anybody can mass produce and mass distribute such consuming products, collapsing all entry barriers. Actually, with software driving user connect nowadays, companies perceive hardware is becoming irrelevant. With minimal focus on the hardware interface, products are looking very generic.  If it’s so easy to achieve human connect, cosmetics companies like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder among others would not have existed. By nature, people always prefer to embellish their look for others in society. So hardware of digital devices also require L’Orealish embellishment.

De-commoditization: Swatch watch is my favorite example of how to de-commoditize a digital brand. The Swatch strategy has been to disrupt the interface of its digital product. The watch runs digitally on a printed circuit board, but its interface is totally analog driven. Swatch has never allowed the visual face of its digital timing to become generic. While being a low cost, mass watch since 1981, Swatch still runs a prestigious reputation of being a trendy Swiss brand with a specific Swatch culture. Sales volume has enabled Swatch to grow tremendously profitable, allowing it to acquire most of the premium to luxury global watch brands.

Digital backbone is just a skeleton: The repetitive character of any digital interface is too boring, it kills visual elegance. Much ahead of its time, Swatch has managed to co-opt and embed the digital system as the skeleton inside its products, and titillate customers with a swanky external face. Undoubtedly nobody can deny that digital technology is the essential backbone. By considering it only as skeleton, the flesh of human skill, creativity and embellishment can grow. At a German airport the other day I saw a very high-tech bluetooth wireless headphone. What heightened my thrill was its round carry case with a feel of jute cloth. So everything in this headphone looked analog, while having an outstanding digital skeleton.

Terrorism and other kinds of propaganda and garbage that spread through social networking are influencing children to leave their homes for jihad. I’ve witnessed parents traumatized by such happenings in France. Persons with malicious intention can spy on people who innocently and foolishly virtually expose their personal details for their friends on social networks. People in developed countries where this technology was born, and is flourishing, are seriously beginning to revolt against such social espionage that different portals practice.

The digital aspect will never go away, but by 2025 it will be like water and electric light which are commodities we cannot do without. It will become a basic, inevitable and necessary slave and commodity of human society.

To download above article in PDF, Click here : Digital Graveyard

Source :  The Financial Express  /  The Indian Express


(0) Comments    Read More