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OPINION|THE STATE OF THE (B)UNION VS. THE REST OF THE WORLD

While we wait for the 45th POTUS to (un)graciously concede to his successor, there is a tumult of below the radar conjectures and hypotheses about what a post Trump world will be like for us in the global backwaters. I had earlier, in a fit of existential optimism imagined a continuing Trump administration and its increasingly casual/ diluted semblance of global diplomacy (read: deal vs. war making interventions) for another 4 years, toxic as his local politics have been. And so, painful as the transition to a Biden presidency is unraveling to be, it is apparent that the majority of the State of the Union has trumped national divisiveness and hate with its version of good old American collectiveness. Just about, though.

Good for the Americans! Maybe not so good for the rest of the world!

(Read here my blogpost on why another 4 years of a Trump administration would have been beneficial for a lot of the rest of the world: (https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/08/19/featureenter-the-dragon/).

The way i see it, there are a couple of ways American foreign policy can go over the next few years:

Kind of diluted as the new administration focuses on licking the wounds inflicted by the socio-ideological scrapings and abrasions of the Trump era; or a good old hark back to the days when the American war machinery was going about its well-oiled way on every continent of the world. Because, although it was inadvertent and there was no moral authority at work on this front, Trump does have the honour of being the “zero war” president. He focused instead on his art of the deal to deliver for America and quite completely relinquished any assumptions of America being EVERYBODY’S Uncle Sam whether they liked it or not.

The last four years in fact, have been like nothing the Americans or the world has seen in the last 50 years. The Trump administration has whittled, nay thunked away at a democracy and a social collectiveness/ cohesiveness that was damn near perfect, on the surface. Of course, little malignant glimmers of inequity and distrust did come through every now and then when the first world mantle of sophistication became a little worn out. That was then followed by some casual/ oft-rehearsed political tussle between red-neck septugeneraians in Congress that was meant to appease the community that was feeling particularly marginalised or disenfranchised at that point in time – taking political turns to play the Cop and Robin Hood. There was also that much touted freedom of self, and opportunity for all, that was the perrenial bandaid, the ultimate panacea that made America the greatest country on earth. And so it had gone on, the brain washing and the socio-economic glossing over until every last American was convinced that he/she was a part of some elusive greatness even if one third of them had never ever known how it is to actually be First Class Citizens in the country of their birth (70% of the country is white; the rest, not so much). And so the Black and Hispanic communities still have that toxic coming of age conversations with their progeny on how to survive in a basically white supremacist America. The women too, have made little progress beyond the right to vote. It took racist, patriarchal America 250 years of independence before, in a surprising twin-reckoning of race and gender, they elected an ethnically diverse woman to the second highest office in the land. (In a fitting paradox, developing nations like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have had female heads of state decades ago). And the American nation still seems to be reeling from this historic event as illiberal/ dogmatic America fights tooth and nail to hold on to the comfort of its whiteness and its maleness in the aftermath of the most recent election.

Trump embodied all the above and to his credit, showed it up for what it is. He didn’t create anything new – he only exposed the unwholesome underbelly of a nation that was already pernicious at its core. He was copiously helped along in breaking down that painfully erected veneer by the volubly chirpy right wing media machine. And thus it came to pass that the greatest country on earth became the union of divisiveness and hate. That is the 4 year national legacy that the Biden administration has inherited.

The million dollar question keeps popping up like a whack a mole*: will the next 4 years of the American administrative effort be predominantly spent in rebuilding some semblance of its erstwhile national socio-political window dressing, or will it be outwardly focused as before to regroup, repair and recover America’s (un)gentlemanly swagger on the international front?

If the Biden administration takes the former route, that gives the rest of the world that supremely advantageous space to fill in the power vacuum thus created. This has already been evidenced by the signing of the recent RCEP* – the world’s biggest free trade agreement in modern history, connecting approximately 30% of the world’s people and output. With the withdrawal of the US and India, it is also emphatically catalysing an intra East Asian collaboration around China and Japan. This is momentous in that it has the conspicuous absence of the regional giant – India, and the (hitherto!) global super power -the USA, from the helm of a major global undertaking. Another 4 years of lacklustre American interference will surely cement the newly burgeoning bi-polarity of our world.

How effective this route will be to repair, even on the surface, the socio-ideological damage done by 4 years of the Trump administration is very moot, but that is a debate for another blog post if the inspiration overtakes me.

If the US, however, decides to reinvigorate its foreign policy manifesto such as it has been for the last 100 years, then there is the very real chance that the RCEP and other such intrepid Asian exploits into the economic stratosphere, may be manipulated into losing the steam necessary for them to bi-polarize the globe. It will take grit and extraordinary determination to keep these regional alliances alive and kicking and working.

We, the world, will just have to wait and see whether the 100 year jinx is still playing out** and whether that together with all our stars aligning right will do the ultimate alchemical trick of shifting the global balance of power.

The not so distant time will tell.

*Whack a Mole: a popular children’s game where players keep whacking moles that appear at random across a perforated board.

*RCEP: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

**As per Wade Davis (writer and anthropologist) “No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. [By the 20th century], the torch had long passed into the hands of America”.

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THE CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 2)

Too often, in the everyday throng of the corporate world, Management tends to lose sight of many of their star players. The race to better the bottom-line translates into a disproportionate recognition of the sales staff, who are bringing in the business. This imbalance is further exacerbated by the notorious bell curve that shapes most corporate performance appraisals: there are a limited number of distinctions that can be allotted and these are summarily assigned to the usual suspects.

While this system is great in the short term, it is unsustainable and damaging in the longer term. In the relentless competition for limited business, where the pie doesn’t grow as proportionately as the hands digging into it, it becomes a self-defeating endevour. That is because the robustness of the new business is not supported by a congruously adequate operational and service structure/ platform. This disparity translates into dissatisfaction, both internal and external, culminating finally into good staff and customers abandoning their loyalty to the organisation and the brand.

What, then, is a workable panacea to this conundrum?

Where the company is in an early growth phase, skewing your rewards structure towards the left to make it more sales driven, is in fact, a good approach. Based on the presumption that the basic operational and service infrastructure is already in place and functionaing, the objective then can predominantly be to mobilize new business.

Up to what point, then, can this skewed rewards structure be gainfully applied?

That strategic pivot needs to be meticulously defined as the acceptable number of complaints per 1000 customers or the Complaints Ratio. This will also define how the company aims to position itself in terms of a niche or mass market service provider or both. If you’re the former, then a complaints ratio between 5% and 7% will work; if you are catering to a more specific, smaller/ discerning subset of customers, then a complaints ratio of less than or equal to 1% should be the standard.

Right from the start, have a robust feedback system in place to not only capture customer driven complaints but also bank initiated VoC* streams. (I will go into more detail on Customer Experience systems in another blog post). To ensure that the business that your sales teams have so laboriously extracted from the market, remains within the realms of your brand, it is essential to define and keep in perspective the goalpost at which to recentre the rewards program of the company towards a more balanced sharing out of bonuses and compensations. This then, will be defined as the Tipping Point at which the company should regroup and review their performance enhancement techniques and payouts.

Talent Management: While the compensation and rewards system may be frontline-skewed depending on which part of its life cycle the organisation is at, there are other steps that can be taken to ensure internal organisational robustness. A key element here is talent management. This is a hybrid financial and non-financial/ psychological reward system that ensures the company retains its best and brightest even while it is predominantly focusing on business acquisition and growth. Enter the HR department and the Management Committee. These 2 entities will need to work in focused tandem to ensure the success of any talent management initiative. The modus operandi is simple:

The top performers in every unit across the organisation need to be identified. This is your talent pool.

An HRRM* needs to be designated to each of these individuals. These RMs will regularly (every quarter at least) engage with their professional wards to find out how they’re doing/ discuss skill set development opportunities/ identify possible new positions/ optimally manage expectations – basically a VoE* and staff development session.

Each one from the talent pool is also assigned a Mentor who is a member of the Management Committee. They also meet regularly where the conversation is about aspirations/ life goals/ sharing of experiences – basically a Character and Ethics building session.

It is incredible how effective and motivating non-financial reward and recognition programs are. Human beings at their core, are an amalgamation of emotion and feeling. These psychological gestures of appreciation are sometimes more effective than even financial rewards and result in a thriving, loyal, market leading work force. Having said that, both financial and non-financial acknowledgment structures that are highly skewed towards just a few functions/ units, lose their temerity and effectiveness with time. ManCom* wisdom plays a big role in finding that right balance, at a given inflection/ change point in the life of the organization of keeping all their people feel appreciated and happy to be a part of the brand.

Succession Planning: This element of the corporate rule book is not given half as much importance as it should be. I have seen a number of fabulously managed units/ companies fall to the wayside when the manager leaves. The culprit: poor to non existent succession planning and training. There are a couple of reasons for this inadvertent oversight: the first, mostly because it just is not on the company radar, which means there is no trickle down incumbency of this factor into performance appraisals. This also means that it usually doesn’t tend to happen and even if it does happen, it is haphazard and personality driven rather than systematic, continuous and goal oriented. The other reason has to do with our human emotions again – an insecurity about being challenged or even being outshone by the Second-in-command. This i have also witnessed and have seen the natural/ most probable successors to a job role, leave the organisation as they are sidelined and trivialised.

Again, a robust succession planning system needs to be in place to ensure the organisation does not fall into the rut of outsourcing most key positions or losing its essential human capital of promising/ talented one-downs.

(Read Part 1 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/10/29/corporate-seriesthe-de-mystification-of-organizational-success-part-1/ )

(Read Part 3 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/12/01/corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-3/ )

  • *VoC: The Voice of Customer feedback platform consists of a number of feedback streams to allow customer concerns and suggestions to be effectively channeled.
  • *HRRM: Human Resources Relationship Manager
  • *VoE: The Voice of Employee feedback platforms are formal avenues to facilitate constructive staff critique and suggestions.
  • *ManCom: corporate-speak for the Management Committee.
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VERSE|AN ODE TO @therealdonaldtrump

**There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple too.
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird
Is popping out to say cuckoo cuckoo, cuckoo...
Regretfully they tell us
But firmly they compel us
To say goodbye...
To YOU!
And so my dear Mr. President
I wrote this ode for you, for you.
Your time is up, you tried so hard
I always rooted for you, it’s true!

Despite intuitive knee jerks to the contrary
I kept steadfast in my fidelity to thee.
And now you’ve been sadly booted out
By the insidious US political machinery.

‘Tis true you created gross divisions
In a fundamentally diverse United States
But you were only showing up what was so viscerally embodied
By large swathes of the American electorate

‘Tis true you were the Demonizer-in-Chief
You gave the Corona Ravagement Envy
You were gleefully racist, bigoted, xenophobic
But you were only exemplifying what so many actually were intrinsically;
Not just quietly closeted anymore with those lofty ideals
But free to strut them, and really relish the feels!

And although there was now all that national drama
There was also the new MAGA*-powered Sovereign Fiefdom
You uplifted the cause of exclusionary statehood
Allowing The rest of the world that rare freedom
To regroup, repair and renew in a space
Not perpetually imprinted with Uncle Sam’s face

You were summoning home all American troops
As you rolled back on the US’ war waging strides
You were making your America great again
And letting the rest of us get on with our lives.
But you were unique in your internationally disinterested approach,
Since America had always been that one invincible roach
That brazenly roams your kitchen by day and by night
Leaving you with the detritus of its pillaging might.

Your political incorrectness was apostatized
To paint you as the resident devil incarnate
Your incongruous presidential demeanor
Was touted to be the fall of the American super state.
And so 45th, you have been summarily dismissed
As a globally failed one term president no less!

But I mourn your hyper-blustery POTUS days,
And Im hazarding a guess that I’m not alone.
The last 100 years of American politics
Have elicited their fair share of planet-wide groans.
Another 4 years of you would have at least shaken
The memory of a bullying, blood-letting American nation.

Now vestigial shadows of America’s wars
Are rearing their ugly heads once again to explore
New conflicts, new conquests, new treasures to be taken;
More intrusion, displacement, refugees, coercion,
Every ounce of dignity and fair play foresaken.
There seems to be naught but more US agitation
Writ portentously large on our collective horizon

And so in ending, to the @realdonaldtrump I say,
We will indeed miss you HUGELY sir;
Your autocratic, Jesus complex,
Your dash of frankincense and myrrh.
Now is also the time for the rest of the planet
To take to their tranquilizing zen spaces;
My crystal ball tells me we’ll soon be battling again,
In America’s brand new edition of The Hunger Games* Races.
PRESIDENT’S BEDROOM, WHITE HOUSE. JAN 22, 2021

De Khudai pe aman

**lyrics from “So long, farewell” from the movie The Sound of Music
*MAGA: Donald Trump’s political slogan - Make America Great Again
*The Hunger Games: A 2012 apocalyptic science fiction trilogy where children battle it out to the death in a bizarre state run electorate-subduing campaign
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OPINION| A GRACIOUS FAREWELL

I’ve been meaning to put this hitherto confusing, emotionally wounding mass of thoughts to paper/ tablet for a while now. So far, through all the varied attempts over the last 8 years, I’ve always choked on the words in my mind; cocooned in a kind of benumbing Writer’s Block if you will.

So here i am today, feeling a little more intrepid, a tad more emotionally sound and spurred on by a medley of bittersweet reminiscences, to finally reflect on the vital importance of End of Life acceptance, dignity and preparedness.

To die is inevitable; to lead a life well-lived is a choice. And yet, we leave so much to providence while we can still exercise our power to choose, and put up formidable bulwarks of resistance when faced with the inevitable. This is a construct and a bullheaded perpetuation of our modern times, urged on by medical advances and its numerically incremental effect on our life expectancy. While we are living longer, we have also developed an almost combative relationship with the End of Life. Even when everything is pointing towards the ineludable final exit, we choose to fight. We push back, we suffer, we agonize and we degrade, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as we try and keep the “monster” at bay. A lot of times, that militancy is dispensed by the people closest to the terminally ill; and despite their good intentions, end up reducing their already suffering loved ones to little more than vulgarised shadows of their former selves.

In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She lived with the disease for four years with the dignity, grace and courage of the superwoman that she was. Never once did she don the mantle of the reduced or the afflicted or the invalid. Right to the end, she remained the gracious matriarch of her warm, welcoming home. Towards the end, the final two days to be exact, when she should have been allowed to make that Final Walk with the same beautiful poise with which she had lived her life, we, her family and her medical specialists intervened with all of our might to fight off the inevitable. She was taken to two different hospitals over the span of the last 3 days where the vitally alive battled to avert or at least delay an end, that became heartbreakingly beleaguered.

My final memory of her last day with us, has nothing in the way of any gentleness, love or the deep peace of final goodbyes. It is a memory fraught with fussing, poking, prodding Medical Staff intubating, pulling and pushing her as they, with assiduous professionalism, executed their Hippocratic oaths. The memory of her looking right at me, confused and exhausted as they inserted the ET tube down her throat is still searingly painful.

For a full two years after that, I thought of that terrible, terrible last scene every single night before i allowed myself to sleep. Perhaps it was my form of emotional self flagellation for being a well meaning party to the inadvertent indignity and torment my mother suffered towards the end.

And then, I’m not sure whether it was a providential helping hand reaching out from my own subconscious to finally pull me out of my emotional abyss, or the tender, cosmic reverberations of the maternal bond that helped me to transition to my current state of mental well being. That said, it was a dream that gave me back some semblance of my peace. So lucid, potent and reassuring was the vision of my mother being well and happy that i woke up with the sheer visceral force of the feeling – the warmth of her touch still lingering on the skin of my hands. (I have written about the dream in another post: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/03/09/thank-you-for-the-joy/ )

And so, I finally did surface from the viper pit of guilt and grief and i have since, forgiven myself.

All living creatures are the sum total of their experiences and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my experience of losing someone close to me is the ability to see death for what it is – unavoidable. While I have lost my fear of the end, i also now understand the profound blessing a quick (relatively painless) exit is. That a departure that is underscored with acceptance, essential conversations, tranquility and quality time spent together becomes the blessed catalyst for more fully celebrating the lives of the loved ones we’ve lost. That the ability to see life and death with more ethereal eyes, to help us to grieve a little less and remember with joy so much more, are the cornerstones of a loving, respectful parting.

These End of Life preparedness conversations need to logically start in the hallowed halls of medical science. Medical caregivers need to bring more depth to their oaths taken for preserving the well being of human life, to include the dignity of death. These conversations need to become mainstream; to change the culture of the crusading and contrariness around death. In our current approach, we are left with too little in the way of the love and grace of final farewells.

It will take a consummate change in our emotional and social makeup/ temperaments to begin to ennoble death even half as much as we do life. Given the current state of our world, this gracious labour of love around Final Partings may be the panacea for reminding us of both, the wonderful alchemy of the state of being alive and the eternal fragility of life itself.

De Khudai pe aman

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VERSE| CARPE DIEM

I sit here, encircled in my routine,
My safety net spread around me like a bright yellow blanket.
The sameness, the everydayness keeping it close, gently embracing.
I’ve gulped down the first half of my mug of coffee
So now I’m surrounded also, by a warm cloak of caffeine.
I stretch inwardly with the languid requiescence of a just-fed, just-loved cat.

I look outside at the recently blue sky
Where the clouds have now gathered in heavy eskers of grey
The suddenness of the assailment, the eclipsing of the sun,
Breaking the spell of my Constancy Ritual.
I sip on the second half of my mug of coffee, rhythmically bolstering my caffeine haze
Even as the sudden coolness of the breeze loosens my other multitudinous layers of psychical warmth.

Then the rain begins to fall.
Free, fluid, gleaming,
Skipping down the sidewalk; dancing in eddying pools on the street below.
And i stand up and stretch with the lustiness of the Alive and the Kicking.
I reach out and catch the falling raindrops in the trough of my open palm;
I reach out and seize the day.

De Khudai pe aman.

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VERSE| RAVAGED

A tribute (brutal and raw so we don’t forget) to all those courageous girls who have been made victims of our ugly patriarchal social fabric, and who have stood up to their tormentors/ abusers and even their protectors to stop the obscenity. And to those brave, brave girls who continue to fight to survive another day. May we see this horror begin to end in our lifetimes.

It’s my wedding day today; i am 17 years old.
It is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened,
And the 3rd anniversary of the 153rd time.
I have this terrible memory - my teachers call it a photographic memory.
I remember everything. I can’t forget even when i want to.
My mind is a notebook, each page blazing with the clarity of vulgar recall
I have tried to be good; to remember only what i should
But I have this terrible memory...

Today I’m to wed my uncle - My father’s younger brother.
For him, it is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened.
And all the anniversaries in between.
I wonder if he remembers the 28th time...the 10th time....
The First time...
I wonder if his memory is as unforgiving as mine.
My notebook has no entries on conjectures, or pain or anguish
Not mine; not anyone else’s.
It is only the sum total of the number of times “It” happened.
Each page pristine, detailed, crystal clear, with edges as sharp as knives;
Bestowing countless paper cuts as they stir secretly in my head.
Those blessed paper cuts ... mental cuts .... numberless abrasions, innumerably inflicted to forget a page;
To forget one instance.
That never happens.
But i find some peace as the physical pain temporarily cloaks me in its tenderly piercing grasp.

Today I will become the wife of Harris lala* .... Harris.... No, I can’t bring myself to drop the suffix
Maybe he will finally become nameless. Tranquilizingly, numbingly, mercifully nameless.
My mother is relieved... she has been a silent witness (his co-conspirator?) to the last 5 anniversaries of when “It” first happened
My father hasn’t really spoken to me in 3 years (his Protector?) .... not since the day I tried to tell him that his brother had ... had been ... my mind still refuses to name “It”
Today I also learned that I’d stood first in the Board matriculation exam.
I resent that accolade .... that worldly consummation of my terrible memory.... my terrifyingly acute, my savage, unrelenting memory.

Today, my tormenter (my violator?) will become my partner for life
Today, I’m going to finally close the Notebook in my mind
Today, I’m going to be respectable once again.
Today will be the First day of the consummation of my marriage!

(Today will be the 389th time that i will be ravaged).

De Khudai pe aman.

Lala: term of respect for older male relative, mainly denoting “big brother”. Used commonly across most communities in Pakistan.

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OPINION|THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The 110 million Shadow People of the Pakistani populace: its WOMEN.

For to be fully alive and to be accepted as an individual in her own right, you would have to have control over your body and your life, and all movements/ shifts/ evolutions and inclinations thereof. And the Pakistani woman is the antithesis of all the above.

I won’t go into beleaguring rants about the hideousness of the most recent episode that was afflicted on one of the 110 million shadow people of our country https://nyti.ms/3me7bDW ; the Public Outrage Machine is doing a quite spectacular job of that, and as it should. That’s the positive glint-of-steel point of the double edged sword that is our digital social media these days. I will however go into the systemic, grass root level ideological and academic changes that need to be implemented to ensure events like these are prevented, not from the fear of being caught, but by the moral force of our collective social compass.

So where did we go wrong?

Let’s take a quick traipse through history. The advent of Islam some 1400 years ago in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, came at a time when women were considered little more than chattels to be bought, sold, used and abused. One of the main guiding constructs of the new religion then, was to bring some semblance of decency to the female equation, anecdotally exemplified time and again by it’s primary champion, the Prophet Mohammad. He himself fell in love with a successful businesswoman (Yes! They obviously met, interacted and got to know each other prior to their nuptials, and contrary to the backwardness now associated with any interaction of familially unrelated men and women). Khadija Bint Khuwaylid was as proficient at commerce as Mohammad was at managing caravans along the frequently dangerous trade routes between Mecca, Syria and Yemen. The business partnership ultimately evolved into a marriage of 25 years which ended with Khadija’s death. It is interesting to note that at the time of their union, Khadija was 40 years old, while Mohammad was 25. It is logical to glean then, that the much younger man must have taken both relationship and business cues from the older, twice married and widowed, already successfully established business woman. Throughout, their relationship was underscored with equality, mutual respect and love. That is the legacy and the stature of women in Islam, consummately upending any patriarchal nonsense that has for so long now been affiliated with the role and station of Muslim women in their communities.

What we see now; the crude, revolting patriarchal version of Islam and it’s sordid view of women is a much more recent perversion brought about by unethical leadership, crude politics and power mongering.

So straight out, let’s leave the religious gerrymandering and filibustering at the door. After 1400 years, using religion as an excuse to justify the vile regression of the way we behave is a desperate ploy to perpetuate the unbalanced mess that is our society now.

In comes Culture then – the sum total of our norms and customs. That ever-changing chimera that has made paupers into kings and brought us out of the dark ages. If it was not for cultural progress, the slave trade would still be thriving and women and minorities would still not have the right to vote.

Now that the two primary purported roadblocks to change have been laid to rest, where do we go from here?

Below is a pithy, grass root level prescription that can start paving the way for a more equitable, respectable Islamic society.

Change the culture in your homesteads: There is no greater or more effective education than that which is provided in the impressionable years in the sanctity of the home. For too long have we, the Pakistani (and in fact, the sub continental) parents fostered the preferential son treatment. Of putting the boys at the front and centre of the universe. Of fomenting the bizarre idea that their sisters are convenient appendages to their superhero cloaks of getting ahead/ of progressing/ of “carrying on the (dubious!) family name”. You, the parents, know every time you faithfully abet and encourage this exploitation of the girls in your family; and you need to stop. In the name of all that is just and decent, you need to cease and desist playing your malefic part in this patriarchal ploy. I won’t go into preaching what to do here instead. The prescription is as simple as it is clear: foster an environment of trust, respect, security and equal opportunity for all your children.

Make all schools and universities all-inclusive: The version of religion/ custom/ creed where girls and boys are kept rigorously separate during their formative years, has to change. It is not only that we do not have the economic luxury nor the academic expertise to run parallel systems of education segregated by gender, it is also the most counter intuitive manner in which to prepare these young women and men in becoming upstanding members of their communities. It is at these centres of learning that they will acclimatise to each other, to learn to respect each other and to live communally without the awkwardness that is currently a part of almost all adult inter-gender interactions. This convention of keeping “our girls safe” by keeping them distant from the boys, has led to the formation of a social system that is regressive, archaic and has shown to be unconscionably harmful to the psychology and well being of both genders. One has ended up donning the mantle of the victim and the other has become the perpetual perpetrator. Gender-unify our educational system, and while endowing our young boys and girls with “book smarts”, coach them equally on developing their “street/ community smarts” to enable each one to live a respectable, rewarding life despite the curve balls the universe is wont to throw off and on.

Overturn and replace archaic, female-victimising policies: Starting from the national and moral embarrassment that is the current Hudood Ordnance*, to all the primitive rural customs that put the female front and centre as the Pawn of Retribution for all the nefarious actions of the men in their communities. This particular facet requires somewhat of a step-back because it compels our very lawmakers to recalibrate the way in which they perceive the status of the average Pakistani (Muslim?) woman. It requires unequivocally clamping down on the religious fundamental fringe taking women’s lives and the law into their hands to dispense their barbaric version of justice. It requires an end to Inquisition-era relics preaching to women on how to best fade into the scenery. Which brings me to the next point.

Re-introduce Civics as a compulsory university level course: Civics, that academic gem from yesteryear, teaching public propriety and communal sophistication, that has, with every other decent and ethical credo, been washed away by the corrupt tides of recent times. Enrich it with a Social Ethics curriculum, at the beating heart of which should be the steady progress towards true gender equality. Let the gender dialogue start in this Civics & Social Ethics class. Make it legitimate and appropriate to expose, debate and discuss the sexual discrimination that is rampant in every aspect of our society. Encourage both men and women to look within themselves and their communities for ways in which to counter the gender blight. For those already in sensitive policy making posts, this will mean a re-education on modern gender roles and in the case of Islamic republics, also highlighting the rich religious tradition on the status of women, that has existed for centuries.

Rejuvenate the CPLC: The Citizen Police Liason Committe has traditionally been a non-political, operationally independent institution, managed by dedicated and concerned citizens offering their honorary services. It is currently situated in Sind but can be expanded to the other provinces/ metropolises. Re-energise it with Neighbourhood Watch protocols of systematic local vigilance by householders to discourage crime. Liaise with the “good apples” in the community police force to ensure your environments and spaces are safe at all times. In the porous social and judicial fabric of our country where it is easy for perpetrators to get “lost”, this group can play a pivotal role in identifying and bringing to justice, locally based criminals.

Institute behaviour-changing punishment for perpetrators: Last but nor least, crime and due punishment. Unless the state makes an example of the consequences of gross physical abuse, it is impossible to bring about any real or lasting change in culture or mindsets. Justice has to be definitive and the sentencing swift and permanent. Whether it is execution or chemical castration for charges of rape and paedophilia, the decree must be carried out to the letter, every time, until both, the inclination and the behaviour are unlearnt and permanently purged from our societal DNA.

We, as a nation, are at a crossroad of reckoning on many fronts, our values and religious comprehension and followthrough being at the forefront of this reconnaisance. We cannot afford to remain mired in our current regressive impasse. It is time to get past the stubbornness of archaic customs; it is time to be honest with ourselves; it is time to reawaken some semblance of our socio-moral conscience; it is time to start real and difficult dialogue.

It is time to acknowledge the Elephant in the Room.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Hudood Ordinance: Gender-biased laws enacted in Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler, General Zia ul Haq as part of an overall Islamization process. This was done, with American support as a part of a larger focused Islamic militarisation strategy to help fight the USA’s proxy war against Russia.

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POLITICAL FARCE|THE AGE OF STUPID – Part Deux

May 24th, 2021:

The President Is Dead.

It was not exactly a shock but it did put the Administration into a bit of a tailspin. DT’s* tenuous hold on his vitality and even his lucidity, had begun to loosen quite quickly after he won the 2020 election – through the electoral college loophole yet again, trailing as he was by a popular vote count of 4,321,786 to be exact. It had been sad to see his trademark animated crazy-man persona take a nosedive in the aftermath of a Covid 19 attack in February 2021. Respiratory complications had led to double pneumonia and a heart attack from which he had never quite recovered. And thus it came to pass that with a sniffle and a stroke, the Wuhan virus had finally triumphed over its greatest Detractor and Denier in Chief.

Mike Pence Was Confused.

Mother* had been anticipating a turn in her otherwise vapid husband’s fortunes. She was a devout Christian and believed that because of her prodigious equation with God, her Mike was destined for greatness. Privately, Mike was terrified. He was used to doing someone’s bidding- the more autocratic the bidder, the more effectively Mike Pence tended to do the [political] work of God. Mother said that when the time came, he was to “rise to the occasion”….

He mopped his brow and picked up the phone to call Mother. He put it down almost immediately. He looked across at Ivanka, squinting in anticipation.

Ivanka Glowed

In the wake of her father’s battle with the Chinese scourge, Ivanka had stepped up just like the chip off the old Trump timber that she was. In fact, she’d been the defacto Head if State now for the last 3 months while the President elect had relegated himself to laboriously showing up for the necessary photo and video Ops. In the short course of 2 months and through unrelenting public interactions and fact-repelling, fantastical incendiary speeches, she had expertly manipulated his fiercely loyal electorate to look on her as the heir apparent to the American throne. When the time came, she was going to gleam; she was going to be queen!

June 9th, 2021:

Bloody Wednesday

A million Trump supporters marched on Washington DC on June 5th, 2021. They had one mission in mind: to ensure the legacy of Donald J. Trump endured in the only way possible/ plausible. Ivanka Trump was to be President – some said Sovereign Leader.

Over 5000 people were killed in that endeavour (which came to be called the Lafayette Square Massacre in clandestine, ragtag liberation groups). On June 9th, 2021 Washington fell and Ivanka was installed in Mar-a-Lago, Florida as the Supreme Leader of the Republic of America.

June 9th, 2023:

The Immaculate Assimilation

There are still hopeful little insurgent clutches that come up here and there like miniscule trickles of water in the desert. They raise tenuous battle cries for the old values; for equality and justice. They are brutally crushed every time. The QAnon* governed, Portland based torture chambers, i have heard, rival none.

A newage caste system, inadvertently borrowed from the 1500 year old Vedic period in ancient India, has been installed as the elemental social fabric of the Republic of America. It is a fundamental alchemy of economic and racial hierarchy; and it is thriving in all its unstifled, newly-released glory. Washington is now home to the Mass Re-Cognition Camps where participants are concertedly reconditioned on the values of the new republic or Great America as it is now called.

I am a working class brown woman in this new America. And I have ‘volunteered’ to relearn the manifesto and the ethos of our new country, my position in it and especially, the very definite limits to my aspirations.

WWG1 – WGA!*

Long live the Aryan Republic of America!

De Khudai pe aman.

*The Age of Stupid: Title inspired from a namesake 2009 dystopian movie. This feature is the follow up to the original OPINION |The Age of Stupid*

*DT: Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the USA

*Mother: Mike Pence’s (and indeed, all of America’s) endearment for his wife

*QAnon: A far-right cult of conspiracy theorists alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling them

*WWG1WGA: Where We Go One We Go All– a QAnon credo based on the “Great Awakening” of the public to share the load of restoring faith in the rule of law in a post-media age.

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FEATURE| The Call of the Wild

I’d been hearing its haunting calls for a while, and so there was a sense of urgency of the spirit if you will, to go off into some wilderness sunset somewhere. It was in this chakras-in-a-flux kind of state then that the opportunity to soulfully recoup befell me. And so it was at the tail end of a tropically balmy July that i found myself taking the scenic route to Habarana – home to a number of national parks, eclectic wildlife and the majestic pachyderm, the Asian elephant.

We (my travel adventures partner in crime and I), drove to Habarana which is located in the Anuradhapura district of Sri Lanka. It is ideally situated as the departure point for safaris in the Habarana jungle and a throng of nearby wildlife sanctuaries. It is also home to a number of beautiful hotels one of which is the Cinnamon Habarana Lodge. Boasting sprawling grounds alive with the sounds, sights and smells of nature, the Lodge offers fabulous walkways replete with forest trail-like pathways; water bodies straight out of a Monet painting; and a profusion of chittering, chattering birds and primates. Nature truly is free and floating at the Lodge, dancing in a mesmeric carnival of greens, browns, blues and reds. Needless to say, we walked off many a lavish meal in the midst of this resplendent profusion.

Our first deep-dive into nature was a trip to the Minneriya National park situated a half an hour drive away from the Habarana Lodge. Close to the culturally historic city of Polonnaruwa, it is home to 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The park offers majestic views of wild elephants foraging in the shrub. The famous Gathering of the Wild Elephants occurs at this meeting place, also known for the largest gathering of Asian Elephants at one place anywhere in the world. During the dry season of August to September each year, herds of up to 300 elephants are seen within a few square kilometers of the vast Minneriya Reservoir.
The whole experience is almost meditative as these gentle giants go about their foraging activities while the calves romp, play and trunk-wrestle one another. We also had the unique good fortune to see 1-month old twins born in the wild – a fabulous rarity in the pachyderm species. The day of our visit, there were only 5 other jeeps at Minneriya, where there are usually over a 100 on any given day. The pandemic has definitely put a spanner in the wilderness works at Habarana! In an ironic way, as is true for so much in our lives, this break from the human horde has been greatly psychologically salubrious for the resident elephants, who have been known to occasionally charge at the safari jeeps. Not in any harmful way but in more of a display of self preservation as they protect the herd, especially their juveniles and infants.

We were also able to spot wild Axis deer, Jungle fowl, Peacocks and wild hare. Curious troops of Toque Macaque monkeys and Tufted Grey Langurs greeted us at almost every bend in the road, sitting on their haunches like so many subcontinental men who, done with their daily toils, congregate on sidewalks to watch the world go by, while also wishing for some serendipitously divine change in their fortunes. Many are carrying cute as button infants who are chips right off the old blocks – inquisitive, sociable and perpetually waiting for divine (or homosapien) manna.

Wild elephants at the Minneriya National Park

With the copiously tranquil vibe of Minneriya still reverberating in our city-wearied bones, we were hooked. So on the morrow, we embarked on yet another safari, this time to the undulating plains of the Kaudulla National Park. Situated about 20 minutes away from the Lodge, the park is known for sightings of leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, endangered rusty spotted cats and sloth bears. On a typical trip, one is guaranteed enthralling views of a variety of birds including resplendent junglefowl, peacocks, ibis, egrets, hornbills and rain quails. The piece de resistance again however, are the herds of wild elephants and their calves, observable in their wild habitat; and of course the habitat itself. Lush greenery amidst undulating plains meets the eye for miles. Kaudulla Park is yet another close up zen experience with Nature and her great and small beasts.

Wild elephants at the Kaudulla National Park

The national park sojourns are as much journeys into the great outdoors, as they are into contemplative/ meditative spaces replete with the sounds and smells of the peaceful wild. I came away from the Habarana trip revived, rejuvenated and rested. It was like the spiritual letting down of my hair while walking barefoot on rain-moistened grass. Indeed, it was like living, for a few delightful days, in a Khalil Jibran quote: Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

De Khudai pe aman

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VERSE|Thank you for the Joy – Part 2

For my beautiful, wise mother on what would have been her 72nd birthday on the 8th of July 2020. And to all the other wonderful mothers who have left us too soon ❤️🌺

Sometimes i wake up in the morning
Feeling a little less vibrant, a little more melancholy...
I get dressed, and i look in the mirror
My hairbrush poised in my hand...
And i see a flash of someone familiar
A fleeting gesture, a nuance, an expression,
And i smile, a gentle joy touching my cheeks.
And then i look into my eyes
And I clearly see the lingering glimmer of someone resting in my heart
And my heart bursts, my throat chokes up and my eyes twinkle
And i know that i have shared
A special mother-daughter moment in my dressing table mirror.

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VERSE|The Creatures of the Coffee Shops

Following from “The Creatures of the Park” https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/03/04/the-creatures-of-the-park/, this piece is inspired, nay, made quite imperative by my varied experiences at the 2 or 3 cafes i regularly frequent in Colombo city. Because, as with my obligatory evening walk, i am also a devout tea and latte aficionado. And as a creature of habit, i do tend to absorb the full gamut of gastronomic, service and atmospheric experiences at the handful of places i go to. So here is my affable ode to the characters who, like me, can be found at the oft-frequented coffee places around town.

Angst, amusement and even downright vexation
Are some sentiments that have inspired this particular narration.
Because when my adrenaline is not racing haphazardly around,
Yours truly can’t weave verse or prose that is suitably profound.
So here’s a bit of a congenial ramble
About coffee shop folks and their queer, quirky angles.


The first of this set that I chanced to espy,
Was the gaggle of ladies who meet over coffee and pie.
They are genteel and smiling and conversing lightly
Of Ruwani’s boyfriend and Andrew’s new-found sobriety.
Of weddings and parties and stand-out memorial services;
Of yoga class affairs and other sexagenarian caprices.


Following sharply on the last set’s heels,
Is the would-be Romeo who’s eternally spinning his wheels.
While on his regular tarriance through the cafe,
He’ll go through the motions, happily epitomising the cliche-
Sauntering gait, wandering eyes, and obnoxiously loud!
Because how else would this Adonis be noticed by the crowd?
This one engenders both, frustration and pity,
Deluded sense of self; diddly squat in the mental kitty.


This next one (my favourite) is quite off the charts,
The nonagenarian with tremendous love in his heart!
He’s delicate and fragile and yet undauntingly sure
Of his libidinous vigor and marvellous allure.
He speaks in faint tones, each gossamer vein outlined;
“I want to make love to you”, he solemnly opines.


There is also the resident troop of servers,
With personas as varied as their gelato flavours.
There’s the hero who averts a gastronomic disaster;
And the shrinking violet who couldn’t have disappeared faster.
You’ll also see “Lurch” on his tropical vacation
Waiting tables, no doubt, for some fiscal augmentation
(Who’d have believed the fiendish frugality
Of the profusely munificent Addams’ Family!)
There’s also Happy and Dopey and Sneezy and Bashful-
Each cafe with its own quirky take on the fairytale.


The likes of me, of course, continue to be,
The nose-in-the-book kind, with the-tail-on-the-seat.
Looking up only to rest remonstrating muscles,
Perennially ensnared in the Introvert’s social tussle:
Latte on standby, with napkins and spoon,
I’m in a world of my own in the bustling tea room.



The rest of the coffee shop throng is assorted
The foodies, the guzzlers, the loners, the courted.
The suited and booted, the flip-flopped, the Collared*
A theatrical cycle of life streaming onward.
This gamut of movement, that with spirit is rife
Is what makes the modest coffee shops larger than life.
And so i continue to frequent the tea rooms and cafes
To reclusively delight in the milieu and lacteous lattes.

*Collared: priests, monks and other caffeine-relishing clergymen.

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OPINION|The Nostalgia of a nice cup of Tea

Teatime- a word that invokes so many nostalgic memories, while also carrying with it the promise of another little social do right around the corner. I write this from the subcontinental (read: classic) perspective where tea means exactly that, and is not in fact a culinary codeword for another meal…like dinner perhaps!😄

Having lived in a country, nigh upon 4 years now, which is known for its magnificent tea plantations, i came here expecting to be swept off my feet with supremely flavourful tea served with as much fanfare. But oh, the lost pleasure of the perfect cup of tea! Not only has the stately beverage been woefully overshadowed by its more robust cousin, the sinewy coffee, but the genteel art of tea drinking itself has been grievously impaired by our time-constrained lifestyles.

Tepid tea, (whatever happened to tea-cosies?) just this side of being too anaemic or too vigorous, is the norm at most places. Tea brewing is a lost art that even tea timers haven’t been able to revive (those aging relics that lie there, unused, taunting tea drinkers; and then fading a little more into oblivion as they realise the futility of their efforts). Tea strainers are further dying remains of the classic tea trolley. So, even potentially good cups of tea will quickly take on a bizarre, almost bovine experience as one chews the leaves along with each sip.

The silver lining in all this post modern annihilation of the elegant art of tea drinking is the teatime legacy my sisters and i have carried into our lives. Having grown up in a home where tea and the accompanying panoply was the norm, it has been a delightful happenstance. Tea time at home consisted of lavish spreads of everything from pastries and sandwiches to biscuits and dahi bhallas*. And of course it meant steaming pots upon pots of Kenyan tea laced ever so delicately with earl grey. It became an affair, synonymous with togetherness, laughter and chatter. A time for capricious banter and tender confidences- a caffeine-warmed embrace of the ebb and flow of our lives. And at the centre of this lovely intimacy was momsy, the gracious matriarch who made this teatime magic happen.

In conclusion, of all the tea connoisseurs/ growers/ curators of the experience on the island, i ask that you breathe fresh life into this exquisite tradition. It is the assured panacea to many a dreadful day. In the words of Bernard-Paul Heroux, “There is no trouble so great or so grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea”. And as we can all now agree, the “nice” there is replete with all manner of ambrosial and rarefied possibilities.

*Dahi Bhalla: a savoury, yogurt-based snack indigenous to the subcontinent.

De khudai pe aman.

CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 3)

Training and Customer Experience Management are probably the organizational success streams that are closest to my heart. Partly because they are usually relegated to the realms of “ticking off the Regulatory checkboxes“ and the “good to have but not the most critical corporate exertions”; but also because i have spent the bulk of my working life methodically, across 3 separate organisations, trying to disprove the above mindsets. I have met with mostly success as my team and i have doggedly gone after service, process and knowledge breakdowns and shown time and again how, when left unaddressed, they unequivocally cause the enterprise to copiously bleed out customers and revenue.

The service industry is a unique ecosystem mainly because it is the sum total of the experiences and perceptions that its customers take away from it. The fact that it does not deal with delivering any tangible goods or products like a washing machine or an Xbox, means that there is no immediate gratification following a sale, regardless of the intangible/ impalpable awareness of that sale. In the service industry, it is all about the experience as the customer walks away solely with an impression of her account opening or the perception of how easily (or otherwise) her term deposit was fixed. The service industry then, is the merchant of a cumulative array of commerce-driven emotions if you will.

It is no surprise then, that I have always found Customer Experience management, especially of the financial services variety, a constantly intriguing thing. The service and process culture of any organisation represents its great underbelly; and if there are discontented rumblings therein, the whole corporate beast is innately compromised.

How does Management care for this emotionally and experientially complex creature – the Organization – that is both, its ward and its sponsor?

Via a robust Customer Experience Management and Training manifesto that is tailored to address the unique challenges of that particular organization.

Customer Experience Management: Right from the start, have a robust customer experience measurement and service recovery capability in place. In my experience, some variant of the below four-fold approach, depending on Organizational culture, size and life cycle, has proven to be the most comprehensive, simple and effective:

1- A Service health barometer: This translates to a robust and continuous gauge on the pulse of your customers. Emotions and therefore experience satisfaction are as fickle as the best laid plans. What is good for today may not be optimal in 3 months time. VoC* adroitness enables the organization to stay on top of what is relevant to our customers both in terms of current pain points, USPs and future product and process goals. This VoC is mostly externally driven via customer-initiated feedback and complaints and (for bigger organisations) internally driven, via company-solicited product and service feedback channels.

2- A Service measurement index: Once the feedback is received from across the external and internal channels, highlight the top 5 – 10 areas of customer concern, delight and aspirations to be managed as below:

    • Build service measurement metrics for the areas requiring improvement to identify process, people and knowledge bottlenecks. Institute a regimen to gauge the ongoing health of these areas post a remedying intervention.
    • Actively share the USPs* with the product and service teams. Build metrics around the unique selling propositions and measure performance albeit on a less frequent basis to ensure they remain healthy and delivering.
    • Ensure that the customer-identified product and service objectives/ aspirations are made a part of product steering committee meetings to discuss their viability and efficacy vis a vis overall satisfaction and returns.

This measurement and action cycle is not a one time exercise but a continuous loop to ensure the organization always stays abreast of its issues while proactively safeguarding and growing its customer and revenue base.

3- Process and product Optimization: This is a critical next step to the bottlenecks emanating from the VoC and the Service measurement metrics. Without it, the CE cycle is like a toothless tiger – all roar and no bite. This is by its singularly curative nature, the most laboriously and strategically challenging function. The battles on the improvement landscape can appear many and daunting. Let the VoC be your primary guide assisted by overarching management insight into identifying the improvements which would elicit the maximum bang for the buck in terms of impact on the bottom line.

The last point deserves a special mention all its own because of its substantial effect on the overall wellbeing of the organization. And that is Training.

4- Training: The issues emanating from the VoC and the service indicator assessments are of 2 main varieties: process/ pricing related (the hard bats) and knowledge/ behaviour related (the soft bats). Usually, the hard bats are the first to be addressed because they bring to the table, the necessary professional complexity if you will, to seem like the exclusive conduits to creating satisfied customers. A lot of times the real low hanging fruits are left to the more astute competition to harvest and feast on. Those fruits are the basic knowledge and behaviour gaps that end up not only creating customer dissatisfaction, but also circuitously increasing complaint volumes and service delivery re-work, as easily avoided misdemeanours pile up for remediation at best, or walk out the door with, often times, our silently detracting customers.

Some Shrewd Wisdom: if organisations spent half as many resources on addressing the knowledge gaps that are identified via their VoC streams, they can cut their complaints by a third and increase satisfaction by over 30%.

These knowledge and behaviour gaps can be bifurcated into 2 main types:

  • The training needs that are more extensive and require a classroom setting to be delivered and learned.
  • The training needs that are quick and easy to fulfil and basically comprise of minor tweaks in the way the frontline staff interacts with the customer at the first point of contact of the service delivery. These are the FPOC* Quick Kills that make up about half of the training needs identified via the VoC. These are veritable process refinement gems and are all too often ignored or just genuinely never perceived, ironically, because they are so obvious. We in the corporate world do suffer from what I call the Penchant for the Higbrow, thus missing the Simplicity of the Sublime!

In closing, a robust Customer Experience program is a 360 degree protocol, starting and ending with the VoC. The fleshing out of the structure in between is what gives the enterprise its fangs and claws to cut through corporate gristle and get to the heart of things that are central to the well being of the organization. It is no secret then, that a successful CE enterprise requires passion, understanding, empathy and grit. The professional that i am today has a lot to do with my experiences as the resident “fixer-upper” at the organizations i worked at for over 15 years of my 20 year career; and the success of those exertions was an unshakeable embodiment of those values.

(Read Part 1 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/10/29/corporate-seriesthe-de-mystification-of-organizational-success-part-1/ )

(Read Part 2 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/11/12/the-corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-2/ )

*VoC: Voice of Customer feedback streams allowing for customer complaints and suggestions to be formally recorded and actioned.

*USP: A Unique Selling Proposition refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors.

*FPOC: First Point of Contact or the point when a particular service stream commences.

OPINION|WHAT IF IT HAD BEEN ME?

Incidence at the Hammad International Airport at Doha

I am still unsure of how to absorb/ make sense of what happened to over 60 women at the Hammad International airport in Doha last month. I can’t seem to compartmentalise it anywhere in my head. In summary, a baby (a few days old) was found abandoned in one of the bins at the airport. The authorities found her and did the only thing that any despotic nation in an apocalyptic horror potboiler would do: They decided without judge or jury that all the childbearing women in all the planes bound out of the airport were guilty, culpable and punishable. So they summarily off-boarded these women, took them to a waiting ambulance somewhere in the airport, had them lie down and then proceeded to strip them down to nothing so they could be invasively examined to determine IF any of them was the mother. The ambulance was surrounded by male security guards and the only privacy was afforded by mostly sheer blinds on the ambulance windows. (I won’t go into the moral debate of why the woman felt such fear, helplessness, such choking compulsion to abandon the infant – ironically, these acts in themselves are the wretched backwash constructs of our “virtuous” male driven social systems and are richly deserving of a whole new rant).

Even more telling of how morally corrupt, power-driven and patriarchal our global collectiveness and the international media machine are, is the almost total silence on the issue from everywhere. The self righteous, voluble right wing media that has an opinion on everything has been as silent as the clock in our universal Halls of Justice. The only reasons that i got to know of the incidence was the fact that one intrepid woman came forward to talk of this physical (she describes it as sexual) abuse on foreign soil while she was en route to Australia; and that I’ve subscribed to Austrialia’s current affairs program “60 Minutes”, and so this video just kind of half heartedly showed up on my YouTube feed.

Since i saw that brave woman’s interview, this one recurring thought has been gnawing at me psychologically and emotionally: what if I had been on one of those fateful flights bound out of Qatar that evening? What if i or one of my sisters or my niece or any one of my female near and dear ones had been subjected to that kind of coercion, humiliation and gross invasion of my body? I’ve written about this incidence hoping for a bit of catharsis in not only thanking my lucky stars that as a woman, i was not in fact there at the time; but also to do my part in making it known that what happened was NOT ok. It was ugly, misogynistic and especially shameful for the stalwarts of a religion and an ensuing culture that almost a BILLION women are a part of worldwide.

(See the full 60 Minutes interview below)

https://youtu.be/JgIvt9nm_1M

THE CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 1)

It has now been over 5 years since i decided to take a sabbatical if you will, from my corporate career. I embarked on it more in the spirit of a healing process (life had thrown a few curveballs at me in 2012/13), rather than a wild abandonment of the work rigour, resulting precariously also, in the sudden and definitive staunching of a hitherto steady income!

Even so here i am, half a decade on, happier and probably somewhat healthier and wiser too! However, you can take a person out of the corporate halls of slog, but you can’t take the corporate exactitude out of the person. And so, i have over the last 5 years, approached all my experiences across the service industry spectrum, from the hospitality to the airline to the internet service providers with my customer experience hat adroitly perched upon my head. I have, quite a while ago, given up even the pretence of being a congenial, everyday customer with a heart full of forgiveness and a kind blurriness of mind reserved especially for appalling episodes of experiential breakdown. I notice everything and while i have made earnest efforts to not treat every service gaffe/ misdemeanour like it was committed by a flawlessly trained prodigy, i do pick my “service battles” from the point of view of identifying those likely eliciting the maximum bang for the buck. So while i won’t voice the mental angst of grossly delayed service followed by fumbling/ bumbling remedial efforts, I will respectfully opine on the myriad different withdrawal regulations that are applied to my NRFC* account – each disparate rule a tribute to its creative forger and executor of the day. The subsequent explanations to central bank auditors could make for a whole new banking science fiction genre; not to mention the plethora of post facto documentary and explanatory toil that I, the customer, would likely have to undertake to help the institution to regularise its stream of inadvertent but almost lovingly repeated foibles.

And so, to cut to the chase, i’ll go right to the helm of affairs – to the leadership of the organisation. That seat of power that can make or break the best and the worst of enterprises.

So what does a good Management Team do to create organisational success?

There are a few simple but utterly alchemical factors here that can convert even a seemingly jinxed piece of corporate enterprise into a decent success. I will explain each in successive blog posts.

Creating and Nurturing a Distinct Organisational Culture: There have been a couple of times, (twice for those inclined to use “couple” to mean a scattering!) where i have become part of a company culture where i felt like i was working for a home enterprise. The work environment being so disparate across the board that it ranged from an all out gestapo reenactment in one unit, to a space bubble with barely a shared ethos among its occupants, in another. And although the 2 units were highly dependent on each other in a particular product value chain, the twain barely ever met in purpose, harmony or delivery. Left unchecked, this work culture dissonance had added over a month to the end to end delivery turnaround time of the particular service. Complaints were rife; staff had been changed multiple times; bonuses were withheld. But despite the best of intentions, the issue stuck like the karmic backlash of a past life. Simply because there was no defined work culture, ethos or a shared Big Picture.

This work culture incongruity is a death knell for companies, especially in the service industry where, unlike in consumer goods producing FMCGs*, the end-user gratification is a sum total of their experience at that point in time with the organisation. Think of opening an account at a bank; your entire takeaway is nothing more than the knowledge that you have a new account in a particular bank underscored by the experience that accompanied that fact. Therefore, leaving the objectives of a mid-sized to large corporation undefined to its daily drivers and facilitators translates into the inevitable gross dilution of end-user experience that in time leaves nothing of the original/ intended USPs* of the company

Enter the dual magic of the Vision and Mission Statements*. These vessels allow management to clearly, concisely and effectively embody not only the existential purpose of the company; but also right to the T, what it means to be a part of the company as staff, customer, supplier and advertiser. (I’m personally not a big fan of shareholder stakes being vocalised in these statements). Building focused understanding, enthusiasm and energy behind these formal statements help to create and perpetuate a distinct company culture. People respond because by nature we are social creatures, and these statements of purpose then become the catalyst for nurturing a community of professionals with a clear unified end goal. A robust company culture though, is not a static thing. While the primary values remain unchanged (e.g. an FI’s* focus on technology, accessibility and financial security), the culture around those values is ever evolving to successfully accommodate the continuous diversity of its people, systems, customers and the external environment. The openness to change needs to be learnt/ imbibed at the get-go; imparted with veracity, in the very earliest of company orientation training programs.

Company management, the ManCom*, is the rightful custodian of the Vision and Mission statements; while every staff is the practical incumbent. In the best organisations, Management role models these values in visible ways to give them meaning, relevance, and to embed them into the DNA of the organisation at large. A game-changing organzational culture is one where its staff members are recognizable almost anywhere in the positivity of their bearing, attitude and pride of affiliation. For me, one such organisation was ABN AMRO bank in the late 90s into the mid 2000s in Pakistan. It was a poster child for hitherto unknown brands taking the market by storm; and continues to be a professional alma mater for so many even after it has ceased to exist in that particular market.

And so, a cohesive organisational culture which brings people together into a work community of purpose, is the first cornerstone of an organisation that successfully leads the charge and is able to cement its position as a leader in the industry.

(Read Part 2 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/11/12/the-corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-2/ )

(Read Part 3 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/12/01/corporate-seriesdemystifying-organizational-success-part-3/ )

*NRFC account: Non Resident Foreign Currency account

*FMCG: Fast Moving Consumer Goods

*USP: Unique Selling Point

*Vision and Mission statements: A Mission Statement defines the company’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of the company. Elements of Mission and Vision Statements are often combined to provide a statement of the company’s purposes, goals and values.

*FI: Financial Institution

*ManCom: corporate parlance for the Management Committee

VERSE|MARDANGI – My Patriarchal Burden

This is A sequel to my earlier verse “Ravaged”.
This piece looks at the complicated nuances of nurture and upbringing, as opposed to the static all-out denunciation of the individual perpetrating familial rape. This piece of writing attempts to highlight the grotesque patriarachy which we have allowed to perpetuate and which has damaged generations of both, our girls and our boys, in its terrible wake.
I am Harris Jan Saleem, the son of Owais Jan Saleem
I am the scion of the Saleem ___ family
I have been raised like all the men in my family:
To hold my dreams high and my head higher
I have been taught that nothing bends that proud bearing. Nothing.

I was 8 when I first saw my father. In Asma apa’s room.
Asma apa is my cousin; my father’s sister’s daughter.
She is 4 years older than me.
I saw him many times; he saw me see him many times.
I learnt tacitly like so much is at home. Nothing needs to be said for it to be understood and emulated.
“It” was a dutiful visit to Asma apa

I was 20 when i too knew that I had to pay a dutiful visit to a woman of the family
She was a feisty one; too independent-minded for her own good. Her mother said so.
I was going to teach her.
I was going to teach her to be Good. To ensure no harm came to our family honour if she got out of hand.
She was 11; she was old enough.

I first visited Sophia on a rainy monsoon afternoon.
The family was surrounded by a haze of food-satiated, heat-fomented stupor;
Each in their own space in the sprawling ancestral home.
That I knew was the congruous ground for the undertaking of such obligations
She was a handful. I almost came away without fulfilling the onus on me of safeguarding the family honour.
But I persisted - it took a chokehold (and I don’t generally believe in inflicting violence on women).
She ceded.
I learnt that the chokehold was a necessary evil. Every time.
(I also realized with time that it wasn’t really violence since I was doing my duty towards upholding the family honour).
There are a slew of such behavioural nuances no one tells you about; which you have to learn on your own.
All of which you perform for upholding the family honour.

One day my older brother saw me visiting Sophia
Like i had seen him for so many years, visiting Asma apa.
This time he looked at me - with a wisdom of the ages.
And i knew then that we are the MEN of the family.
We are expected to know; to be versed in the DNA prescription passed down in virtuous silence along the patriarchal line.
I felt i had been let into an ancient, sacred secret.
I felt an inexplicable pride in being a Man of the Saleem Jan family

It’s my wedding day today; I’m to wed Sophia
When I was asked if I would marry her, I had said yes.
Although she was ... tainted.
But I was a male scion of the family; a custodian of my family honour.
I was expected to bear that burden of protecting, of upholding the family name.

But I have been deprived of the consummaiton of my marriage.

Today her sister is coming to stay with us,
For the summer.
She is 10 and I think already very much like my wife, in her waywardness ...
Tomorrow I will do my duty to protect my family name
In whatever way i need to -
Tomorrow, and for as long as i live.

De Khudai pe aman

OPINION|THE BIG BANG OF SMALL KINDNESSES

As the pandemic marches on, this is more true than ever. I have felt impelled to write this piece mostly because we have all now, as a planet, lived through almost 8 months of the Covid-19 blight. All 7 billion lives have, in some measure, been affected, afflicted or completely upended. And the sobering truth is that there is no real end in sight yet. These past 8 months have also seen families not only devastated by the virus in many parts of the world, but crippled also by the general economic slowdown/ shutdown.

We in the South Asian belt have been relatively more fortunate with regard to our pandemic mortality rates. The conjectures and theories on how the delevloping world is coping so peculiarly well with the disease are varied and many. Call it providential or karmic or the universe finally lining up all the fortuitous constellations in our Asian skies – that is how it is and for that we are grateful. Grateful while still being aware of the economic ravages wrought on the healthy but the vulnerable; the uninfected but the reduced; the vigorous but the poor. Which brings me to the mission of this piece – the importance of being kind. Of engaging in little everyday gestures of generosity to alleviate in some part the struggles of the less fortunate members of our communities.

Start with your neighbourhoods.

Give just a little bit extra to the tuk tuk driver who’s been whisking you about town (or running errands for you) through blazing hot days and even the errant tropical storm. Even if you don’t get into his carriage much or at all these days, tip him for all his gracious service and for persevering still, to earn a decent living despite bleak business.

Patronise your local fruit and vegetable sellers and your standalone neighbourhood grocery stores rather than the larger franchised establishments. The balance sheets of the latter will survive a year or so of beleagured business; the former, however, will be forced to shut down their doors permanently, changing the fortunes of entire nuclear and extended families forever.

⁃ Even if you’re of the genteel old school of thought, for whom the hawkers of malodorous incenses, oddball children’s story books and car cleaning paraphernalia are persona non grata in the general milieu of roadside traffic, be kind. At the traffic lights, despite yourself, roll down and buy some incense, buy a book or buy a cleaning product. Be gracious with your privilege.

⁃ With restaurants and bars in operational flux, if you do go out, tip generously. For most of the kitchen and serving staff, your service gratuity makes all the difference between being able to send a child to school or not.

⁃ For those that are now enjoying, in the safety of their homes, the gastronomic pleasures of Italy, Pakistan or the entire junk food spectrum of the Americas, tip the delivery staff openheartedly. For many of them, their endless google mapped excursions around the city are second and third jobs taken on to supplement incomes made ever more meagre by the pandemic.

Be kinder to your domestic staff, those consummate companions one can’t do without in keeping the household engine well-oiled and chugging along immaculately, peaceably. It’s also no secret that a lot of domestic bliss is owed to their inimitable roles in our daily lives!

⁃ And last but not least, our usually bustling towns and cities are also home to a multitude of scavenging animals. These urban-bred packs of stray felines, canines and even a sizeable number of the avian population depend on the scraps and oddments of the teeming human millions going about their usual day. That food source has become unreliable at best. Do your bit by putting out some water for our creature cohabitants, and food if you’re blessed with an outdoors.

These neigbbouhood civics, in my mind, are fundamental and therefore incumbent on all of us. They are the very basic protocols of social decency and community living, but have over time, and as i look around me, lost their place in our intuitive DNA. And hence, as with so many other virtuous but faded/ lapsed communal interactions in our lives, the need to recall, restore and revitalise is important.

And so, this petition is meant as just a little scratching of the surface to that human part that is intrinsic to all of us bad eggs, good eggs, tough eggs, quirky eggs and all.

I’ll leave you with a cheeky little refrain as a gentle reminder of the compassionate beings we really are, and for when we lose that thread now and then in the frenzied rush of life.

I was a hard boiled egg
Less sugar, more spice
It’s taken a pandemic
To remind me to be nice!