Jan
18
Posted on 18-01-2015
Filed Under (CRIME) by Shombit

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

“If the world had no weapons, what would have been positive and negative today?” I asked a few of my close friends. A Swiss friend, Herve Luquiens, replied, “Hello Sen, your question reminds me of my youth! My grandfather was a socialist leader in Switzerland, Mayor of Lausanne. He insisted I never play with military dinky toys. I was unhappy, but that was his political belief! Seriously, I’m not comfortable with your idea. Talking about the real world, I’m scared about bad guys holding weapons and good guys not. In France, many military weapons were left after World War II. At some stage it was asked to declare them, a few years later, to give them to the police. You did that or you could go to prison. But today whoever wants to rob a bank or kill innocent people can get a Kalashnikov on the Internet for as little as 1500 Euros. Also, Nazis had weapons when the Jews were unarmed… So I love your dream, but I don’t believe it works in real life. Too bad!” Just imagine, 70 million Kalashnikovs sold to date, plus millions of other weapons to destroy people. To what purpose?

A Parisian friend responded: “It’s a trap question! But yes, a great wish.” Clearly a Utopian dream, yet for a few hours last Sunday, 11 January 2015, it became reality in Paris. Amazingly, State leaders from 44 countries were queuing to catch the bus from French President’s Elysee Palace to Place de la Republique to attend an International Unity Rally for freedom of expression.  This republican call by French President made people forget their political or religious divisions. An ocean of humanity, over 1.5 million, inched silently through Paris streets. Simultaneously, another 2.5 million marched in different parts of France, and across Europe, the Americas and Australia people paid street rally tributes to the 17 victims of 1-789-15 terrorist attacks. Such solidarity to condemn senseless killings has no parallel.

I’ll never forget the incredible weaponless union between 2 arch enemies, Palestinian Authority President and Israeli Prime Minister. Leaving aside religious and political problems, they marched together to endorse “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” human rights the French had installed since 1789. Leading the rally, all arm-in-arm, were the King and Queen of Jordon, German Chancellor, British and Italian Prime Ministers, President of Mali, among other leaders. Their peaceful protest was against terrorism killing innocent people, 10 French artists of Charlie Hebdo, a publication illustrating satirical opinion irrespective of religion and politics that French liberty allows, 3 security personnel and 4 Jewish shoppers. These statespersons made no speech, but showed terrorists that their vile acts instead brought people of all religions together. Paris Grand Mosque Imam Boubakeur attended mourning prayers at the Jewish synagogue with Catholic President Hollande and Jewish Israeli PM Netanyahu. This strong symbolic expression of peace showed the power to win without weapons. Can the world become weaponless? I’m not enamored of non-violence where the opposition is armed; it’s unnatural, inhuman, exposing weakness. My dream is a non-violent, weaponless world where both sides have no weapons.

Hate, jealousy and power exist in our DNA, characteristics that cannot be erased. Weapons feed and empower hate, jealousy and power to become explosive, to endlessly kill people. When somebody commits an unsocial violent act, society sends a force to kill the killer. Doing so, have we stopped violence? Revenge will come from numerous quarters starting a domino effect of violence, and making us live in perpetual terror, insecurity and violence everywhere in the world. If we actually had no weapons, social beings would challenge one another through intellectual weapons expressed in various media. We’d experience creativity wars that kill nobody. Styles of expression in different societies would be extraordinary, replacing the physical punishing world we know now. A 6-year-old boy at the French rally was asking, “Why will I be killed for making a funny drawing?”

Unfortunately, all of France is in limbo now in spite of the rally’s success in symbolizing unity. French Muslims are wary of Catholics and Jews, and vice versa. Ironically, all 3 religions are often referred to as Abrahamic, tracing their history to Abraham in the Hebrew Bible. Judaism and Christianity were founded in Palestine, Islam in nearby Mecca, Saudi Arabia.  Since prehistoric times, Palestine has been ruled by Hebrews, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and now warred over by Israel and Arab Palestine. Jews believe it’s their Promised Holy Land, it’s significant for Christians as Jesus spent time there, and as per Muslim tradition, the Prophet’s ascent to heaven was from Jerusalem. I don’t know if this close connection is what makes the 3 religions passionately love and hate one another. Liberal French democracy has welcomed the largest Muslim (8 million) and Jewish populations (half a million) in Europe to France (total population 63 million), but this does not mean that France has to change its high secular value system and freedom of expression.

“We are French first” is the feeling the Unity March hoped to ignite amongst French minorities, just as US values are successfully implemented on immigrants who say, “I’m American before anything else.” French Jews migrating to Israel for fear is a new phenomenon that’s shocked me: 12,000 since 2012 anti-Semitic terrorism struck France, and 15,000 estimated in 2015. I’d never before heard my French Jewish friends, clients and artists express alienation. Personally, I’ve always received great affection in my adopted homeland so never understood what racism is.

That last Sunday’s Unity March displayed no turbulence means we want to live under a beautiful sky with strong fraternity, mixing with different people, different religions, different world cultures. Switzerland with 35% population with migration background and high priority on education, has never faced trouble. Shouldn’t we invest in education instead of weapons to protect ourselves? My question to you, my valuable reader, is: “What if the world had no weapons?”

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

 

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Jan
11
Posted on 11-01-2015
Filed Under (CRIME) by Shombit

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

“Papa, do you remember when I was a kid I used to watch Dorothee’s programme? There used to be an artist-painter called Cabu. They killed him.” I got this text message from my son, born and raised in France. I called him, he could barely talk in his grief. You can watch Channel 2’s animated children’s programme clip by Dorothee called Vive les vacances (Long live the holidays) of 30 years ago here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJhetHo_zfo. Cabu’s live drawings had kept a whole generation spellbound. It’s incredible how my generation, my son’s generation, younger French generations I’ve seen in solidarity gatherings condemning the horrible shootout at Charlie Hebdo premises were all so heavily influenced by intellectual satirical poetic cartoonists.

Gerrard, Jose and I were colleagues working in a design firm at Nation, Paris East, in the late 1970s. We would lunch at La Grignoterie on Boulevard De Picpus, good meat with salad or French fries cooked by the husband of the woman who ran the small restaurant. The dessert was always delicious caramel custard or profiteroles. Particularly on Wednesdays, we would delay the owner because that’s the day Charlie Hebdo was published, and we would get engrossed arguing over its contents.

This satirical paper challenged us with intellectual entertainment. What auto-censored traditional media could not say, Charlie Hebdo ripped apart without any frontier. Their lampooning spared no one, from politics and presidents to religious symbols like popes and prophets, to high-profile celebrities and extreme right culture. They rebelliously took on subjects they disapproved of. Without sugarcoating, they often appeared crude, but with simple pencil strokes, they aroused both great laughter and intense anger. The three of us could never agree on any Wednesday topic. We would always have triangular fights or two-against-one fight. Lunchtime was just an hour, but hot Wednesday debates made us rush through the last 10 minutes. The best part after a big fight was that Jose and I would face each other across a worktable, where immediately we would become friendly colleagues again. Gerrard sat separately in the architectural design department. Often on Wednesdays, he would arrive at 4 o’clock at the coffee shop behind our office to restart our Charlie Hebdo subject fight for 5 minutes, then return to work.

On 8 January, 2015, Jose and I nostalgically spoke on Skype, watching TV in shock, he in France, I in India. We mused over how Charlie Hebdo’s non-conformist illustrators had engaged us on terrific debates every Wednesday. Provocative cartoons of Jean Cabu, Georges Wolinski and Philippe Honore could express satire with a few lines within a few seconds, something that would take a thousand words to write or half an hour to film. Having seen their live graphical palette as they drew cartoons in reply to different questions on television programmes was unforgettable. I was asking Jose why we are feeling we’ve lost our friends because we had never met them. Jose figured it was the power of their pencils, their humour and extreme modesty that endeared them so. As fellow artists, we connected easily to their simplicity and artistic, expressive minds that showed a tangential perspective. They were not known outside France, as they communicated in French, but just look at how the whole world is mourning their deaths. This shows how creative ideology and liberty of expression can never die.

The power of crayons led people of all ages to 26 Rue Serpollet, Paris 75020. They put boxes of colourful pencils as memorial remembrances for those the terrorists gunned down at the Charlie Hebdo office on 7 January, four of whom were considered among France’s most ingenious cartoonists of all time. “I would rather die standing than live on my knees,” is what editor Stephane Charbonnier had earlier said. Watching a TV interview of his companion, Jeannette Bougrab, really moved me. She served as French secretary for youth and community life in Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP Government. Remembering Charbonnier with tears, but elegantly, she said she’s from the Right wing, while he was totally Leftist, but their love was above politics. She was dreading the next few days because two tough jobs awaited her; she had to see her companion’s bullet-ridden body after the autopsy and see him get into the grave. I will never forget her expression of the pain she is going through.

Satirical caricature has been a revered tradition in French journalism since before the 1789 revolution. In this world’s first revolution, where the French motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” emerged, radical and liberal publications played a decisive role in replacing France’s absolute monarchy. Subsequently, there arose modern political ideologies globally and democratic republics. Satire’s core aim is to make people laugh. The printed press spread cartoons and liberty of artists across Europe. But censorship was not unknown to France in recent times. When satirical magazine Hara-kiri published some mockery after president Charles de Gaulle’s death in 1970, it was banned. Most of Hara-kiri’s illustrators then started an alternative, irreverently calling it Charlie Hebdo. Aside from barbing de Gaulle, Charlie also references Charlie Brown who is lovable, but a never-give-up loser created by American Charles Shultz in comic strip Peanuts. Hebdo is abbreviated hebdomadaire, meaning ‘weekly’.

Charlie Hebdo was the heart of French culture, admired for super-stroke creativity in spite of the contradictions they provoked. Other French publications are contributing to keep Charlie Hebdo alive, a million copies will be printed of its next Wednesday’s edition. Although barely known outside France, young cartoonists worldwide want to join it today. France is hosting an international rally against terrorism on January 11, 2015. All this demonstrates that artist-intellectuals have the power to break all political divisions to unite for a cause. Voltaire, an 18th century French satirical polemicist and philosopher, had criticised intolerance, religious dogma and French institutions during his time. What he said sums up the solidarity people feel today: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Jan
04
Posted on 04-01-2015
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

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

Our Prime Minister’s call to focus on zero defect manufacturing quality is certainly the correct direction for India’s future. Referring to the IT sector as showing innovation and research prowess 25 years ago, he bemoaned that India is yet to create something path breaking like Google, while talent has left the country. Undoubtedly IT/ITES grew to $86 billion annual exports, but how much adaptable innovation has happened in this business size is debatable, while research investment has been miniscule.

Innovation is a big word, we use it all the time in India, but without capability to produce digital technology basics like hard discs. Thailand is dominating this market. Even the Japanese, Koreans, and now Chinese are incredible adaptable innovators in multiple domains, not fundamental inventors. Where are India’s engineers making wafers and semiconductors in India?

I’m sure our Government is better facilitating technical paperwork to ease business nowadays. The real problem is elsewhere though. It’s in capability building that requires extreme behavioural change to match global standards and an entrepreneurial bent of mind. For manufacturing to acquire an edge, we need engineers dedicated to hardcore engineering, and well-trained, disciplined, capability-driven workforce. But look at the cream of our engineers jumping to MBA Finance, Marketing or HR without even trying out R&D or manufacturing in India. I asked some brilliant 24-year-old IIT-plus-MBA working people, why don’t we hear of 18-year-old Indians having an innovative or entrepreneurial bent of mind?

Several angles emerged in answering this question. Parents in India, they said, want the son to score high marks in school and college, get a high salaried job; the vision for the daughter is wealthy husband and reputable family. Making it to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) is really tough, they explained. During their last 2 years in school, they enrolled for special and expensive coaching classes to learn engineering fundamentals to prepare for IIT entrance exams. Children continuously feel, often unstated, pressure from parents when choosing the education stream in high school. Science, required for engineering and medical studies, is always first priority. You need high overall marks to take science. So by default, arts or commerce students are considered less intelligent, subconsciously giving them an inferiority complex. Even when good in science, these young professionals said avoiding coaching class was unthinkable because basics are not properly emphasized at school. What’s worse, even with rigorous external coaching they may not make it to IIT.

Why go for competitive IIT, when so many engineering colleges exist? “The job market recognizes IIT as top of the pile.” Having become an IIT engineer, why go for MBA? They answered, enterprises value MBA graduates over engineers, it’s obvious from starting salaries where MBAs get double the remuneration. Engineers wanting to pursue an engineering profession find Indian research institutes, R&D labs or corporate engineering positions do not offer the right scope of scientific or engineering work, the payscale is dismal, nor do such jobs enjoy mainstream status. For higher education, IIT graduates try going abroad as MTech or Doctoral studies, even in IITs, do not match the high standard of Western universities. But an IIT-plus-MBA, especially IIT-plus-IIM (Indian Institute of Management) is every parent’s dream come true. This upwardly-mobile education gets the best job offers, highest societal recognition, uppermost starting salary, all without having any work experience. “There’s further hierarchy: IIT-IIM with Finance specialization tops all! Such a student was even offered Rs 1 crore annually.” What’s the real difference between IIM and IIT-IIM? “The IIT-IIM definitely has better analytical ability and structured discipline at the start, but after sometime, there’s no difference.” It’s disgraceful how we misuse pure engineering professionals. Empowering engineers is certainly a prerogative to fructify India’s ambition to become a global manufacturing hub with knowledge competency.

Crunching marks to family pressure somewhat explains how societal systems paralyze self expression, denying our young generation the scope of an inventive bent or entrepreneurial mindset. Here’s where the Prime Minister should start his real brainwashing to displace this culture. When children are dependent and protected like treasures by rich parents, their inventive or entrepreneurial inclination go out the window. When parents don’t have money, children become street urchins. On the other hand, I’ve professionally experienced that less educated people in the practical field like plumbers, electricians, auto or electronic mechanics, now the mobile phone repairers, have a huge bent for entrepreneurship. Such working class individuals are vast in number, but not valued in society. Here again the Prime Minister needs to strongly support their intellectual development. They can translate their working knowledge into adaptable innovation, but they need the right skill guidance, not through pedagogy but with practical training.

I’m very encouraged by a start-up by one of my client friends. The last 12 years I’ve known Vibhu Hajela he’d often ask about entrepreneurship as I’ve written about it several times, and I’ve always encouraged him. This 52-year-old mechanical engineer MBA with 27 years of rich work experience, earning annually half a crore of Rupees suddenly called last year to say he’s left his job to start a plastic injection moulding factory. He knows he has to generate working capital to continue, and will miss the luxury of good salary at month’s end. I’m sure “Make in India” will succeed with this kind of SME initiative, and the Government will support such start-ups. I must add that Vibhu’s wife was extremely supportive of his entrepreneurial drive.

There are several young Americans, school/college dropouts like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates among others who invented in a garage or cellar, then successfully marketed their inventions. Thomas Alva Edison left school from age 7 because his teacher said he was confused. His mother educated him at home, encouraging him to follow his scientific bent of mind. Edison spent all his pocket money buying chemicals for experiments. He invented the microphone, telephone receiver, stock-ticker, phonograph, movies, office copiers, incandescent electric lights, and owns 1093 patents. When Edison died in 1931, his assistant, Russian-born, Paris-trained chemist Martin Rosanoff said, “Had Edison been formally schooled, he might not have had the audacity to create such impossible things.”

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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