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FEATURE|BY TUK OR BY CROOK

I have now been using these four-stroke creatures to transport me around the island for the last 5 years, and I have to say that we’ve developed quite a lovely (e)motional symbiosis. They take me where i have to go, and I help them log a part of their daily kms while we both also get in a bit of a quaint conversation. The tuk tuk chatter ranges from Imran Khan’s political likability (he’s at least universally loved by the SL 3-wheeler brigade), to expertly compressed 6 minute summaries of their lives delivered amidst unexpected swerves, dodges and lurches, as my driver looks back during the choicest parts of his particular narration. I react congenially enough until imminent death threatens our largely blindly-pitching carnival of drama. Then I don my mother superior mantle, cut my voluble driver short and tell him if he doesn’t focus on getting me to my destination still in possession of my earthly form, that I will disembark right there, right then. That works, because losing a “hire” is almost as bad as having an animated conversation killed at its fastigium – this tuk tuk double whammy is a thing to be avoided at all costs. So the rest of the journey continues in inhaling the toxic and nauseating but thankfully silent, and undramatic fumes of over-taking vehicles.

Tuk Tuk drivers come in all manner of forms, from the road runners to the pavement huggers and a whole colorful gamut in between. There are the staid, honest types who drive in sedate silence (a perrenial favourite and an increasing rarity); the sly, intrepid ones who will take you on wildly circuitous routes to your destination; the meter cheaters who with undisguised enthusiasm will punch in 10 extra buttons on the instrument to awaken the tuk tuk Beast of Deceit; the MI6 Hall of Famers who will glance suspiciously at every other vehicle they pass, with special x-ray vision scans reserved for when they halt at traffic lights. The ones that are big fans of external trappings, their carriages outfitted with WiFi, a DVD player, a 15 inch monitor, sanitizer, a tissue box and, wait for it…. seatbelts! The nervous, anxious ones driving barely intact tuk tuks that groan and whine in anguished protest – (I tend to tip them the most generously. My sentimental, rooting-for-the-underdog knee jerk reactions continue to be alive and well). The Goodwill Ambassador who will, over the 10 minute ride, deliver a heart warming speech on the goodness of his countrymen and the many wonderful bounties of his paradise isle. Then there are the tenacious shopping mall 3-wheeler brigades with ethics that are as dubious as they themselves are territorial – one has to be forcefully belligerent to get out of their clutches; also probably the only contingent that all the other tuk tuk drivers hesitate to lock their … headlights with!

This endearingly sensationalist lot also believes in pithy, public declarations of the meaning and gist of their lives, emblazoned as they are on their autos. There’s a sweet, almost nostalgic obsession with certain historical personages and quaint adaptations of favored English idioms: Like Che Guevara who always wants the tuk tuk contingent to rebel; Bob Marley who would like them to forget their woes in most likely, a moonshine-steeped, reggae-rocked weekend. Then there is the tuk tuk driver throwing out a barefaced challenge asserting “if you’re bad, I’m your dad“; or the one who’s had it with arrogance saying “fly not high so you fall not low“; or the myriad others who loudly declare that their hearts are up (on their tuk tuk behinds) for the taking, and as many more who have publicly closed themselves to love… certain lady passengers always being an exception!

On wet days, of which there are many on this tropical island, the rickshaw drivers will race home largely oblivious to the desperate hails of rain-soaked pedestrians. The ones with a flair for a bit of perverse drama, will even pretend to slow down and then rev up almost immediately, leaving momentarily buoyed spirits crashing into the puddles forming all around; revelling in the reversal of the supply/ demand structure for the course of the monsoon torrent. I have tended to see the comic relief in this too as I have been lured and then abandoned by the fickle advance and departure of an unoccupied tuk tuk. Like they say, everyone needs some catharsis sometime!

As colourful and varied as the character spectrum is on these public carriers, they, one and all, manage to go where no other/ bulkier vehicles can. Through nooks and crannies, brushing, with millimetres to spare, past a lumbering sedan, racing down paths barely wide enough for 2 people to walk abreast. There is something of a mild urban censure of these contorting asphalt plyers – a menace on Colombo’s narrow roads that are already burgeoning with their automotive burdens, many say. But for us, the carless, environment-preserving lot (inadvertent as this reduced CO2 footprint state of being may be!) they are our reasons for remaining happily mobile across our neighbourhood geographies.

And so, as I spend my days roaming the city in between bouts of reading, writing and grocery shopping, I have formed an almost affectionate bond with the tuk tuk posse of the metropolis. Despite the ravages wrought by the pandemic of 2020, they remain optimistic, enterprising, courageous and cheerfully defiant on the roads. I still call them out for over-charging, they still respond with outlandish excuses but together we go pitching and careening across the city in a haze of mutual appreciation.

Getting around the island by Tuk or by Crook!

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OPINION|MY 72 HURS* AND I

I probably would not have been able to write this piece as intrepidly as i am doing now had I been in the motherland. And therein lies the basis of the conundrum that is our religion: an ideology that is deeply, consumingly rooted in loathsome patriarchy with a formidable intolerance for debate and discussion.

1400 years after the Prophet Muhammad brought the message of peace, tolerance, equality and most importantly, the elevation of the status of women in the fabric of our religious and social structures, we have not only forgotten the essence of that message, but have regressed in ways that would be considered somewhat extreme even in the wild misogyny of ancient Arabia. Islam, in the developing world, led ideologically by our oil-rich Arab brethren, has degenerated into a cacophony of fear mongering, at the heart of which is a gender bias so sick, it is boggling to the mind in the 21st century. So embedded is that illogical, bald-faced chauvinism that its nefarious cultural roots are no longer visible in the milleu of religious (mis)interpretation and ritual. In the masterful manipulation of all organized religions, Wahabi/ orthodox Islam too wields its power by staunching all debate that questions its ethical and moral viability for the current times – for to question is to be a Kafir* and thus branded, you may be exposed to the unwitting but ferocious wrath of the rest of the believers; or if you’re lucky enough to escape that gory end, you are forever a pariah in the fatherland.

I consider myself privileged for growing up in that little bubble of sanity that floats just atop the rest of the malignant mass that is our socio-religious national fabric today. Our generation of females in the family, led by absolutely prodigious women of substance, has been bestowed with those critically strategic opportunities to break through the debilitating and handicapping proverbial glass, nay granite ceiling. We have been raised to believe that the only people who are better than us are those who bring more to the the table as human beings, and that does not include their inadvertent Y chromosome. And yet, during my time working in the corporate sector which is known for its gender inclusivity with its strategic human capital goals of at least 45/55 percent female to male ratios, I was reminded on not infrequent occasions, that to be a man regardless of your professional acumen was to have a clear advantage. One example of this state-sponsored misogyny is the weight/ bearing of a woman’s signature on a legal document. Two female signatures are required for every one male signature for the document to hold up in a court of law. And so on more occasions than I care to remember, the resident tea boy who had nothing to do with the legal gambit or the event (except for the steaming cups of tea in our hands) has put down his testosterone-fortified signature as a legal witness, because I, the woman who was leading the charge on the matter, was not deemed fit enough by our state legislatures to understand it as well as any male can, including our tea boy – who, quite frankly, was a good soul but had limited knowledge of BPRD* circulars and responses to the Central bank.

And so this system of overt bias is perpetuated to keep our gender from ever reaching its full potential – an unmitigating stream of psychological and jurisdictive attacks cloaked in fuzzy patriarchy to keep 50% of the country in a constant state of entropy.

Despite these disabling encumberances, our generation has forged ahead – thinking, questioning and expanding our minds and our hearts to become more of the emotionally, mentally and spiritually replete beings that we inherently are. This has also led to a sizeable denominator of women being essentially left in limbo viz-a- viz workable/ aspirational personal philosophies. On the one hand, the religious and cultural ideologies of their forefathers no longer fit their lives in any manner that is respectful, empowering and enriching; on the other hand, any discourse or analysis that could lead to a more gracious and inclusive embodiment of religious tenets is tantamount to sacrilege. This is the state of half the population of the Muslim world; the state of almost a billion people on the planet. I am one of those women.

As we continue to the top of the personal ideological food chain, the number of denizens occupying those upper tiers get very much fewer. The ironic paradox with this food chain is that the apex means surefire disenfranchisement, backlash and predation. Like I said, it is still a rare privilege to be born a female in a truly enlightened Muslim family – i am grateful to be one those. But our numbers are few and the patriarchal landscape is vast and riddled with a hate of dissidents that has only become more fanatical through the centuries. However, every revolution of the hearts and the minds begins with a few intrepid idiots calling out the injustice and the oppression. I am also one of those women.

And so I’m diving into my ideological debate with some essential satire on a salient reward of the Hereafter; a lustful vision so unashamedly made synonymous with goodness that it has compelled the righteous to decimate entire populations and on frequent occasions, themselves too: the 72 Hurs or splendid female companions of Paradise. Promised to every believer. I’m a believer and I think I’m a good human being; (I’m also as straight as they come!) So is that vision, touted as it is in every inspirational Khutbah*, an enticing end to a life well lived? I’m going to hazard a guess on behalf of us Muslim women who are almost a billion strong: Nah!

The religious conversation needs to evolve beyond the all male-corridors of our masjids*; beyond erotic visions of the afterlife as the penultimate reward, to a wholesome, dignified ideology of life itself.

It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to take Islam out of the Neanderthal man caves into the light of the 21st century.

*Hur: a “splendid female companion” in the afterlife epitomising the spoils of a righteously led life for every devout Muslim man

*Kafir: unbeliever/ infidel. The term refers to a person who rejects or disbelieves in God as per Islam

*BPRD: Banking Policy and Regulations Department of the State Bank dictating the rules of business engagement for all banks

*Khutbah: A Muslim sermon that is delivered at places of worship mainly on Fridays which are considered holy days in Islam

*Masjid: Islamic places of worship predominantly visited by only men.

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FEATURE|FROM TROPICAL URBANIA, WITH LOVE

Maybe it’s the naive rambling of the blissfully ignorant, or the intuitive musings of the arduously life-initiated, or maybe it’s just the endorphins doing an extra merry jig in the face of our pandemic-crippled times – but here goes in the vein of the duly afflicted: I am Mahvash, and i am a true blue urbanite!

Almost daily, I experience some gently euphoric moment in my current tropical metropolis. Gentle because that is the nature of all lovely things experienced in copious repetition; if one’s lucky, the pleasure remains while the mad rapture of the initial days, fades into a fond familiarity. And so it has been with so much of my urban roaming and rambling.

My morning jo – such a simple start-of-the-day ritual and yet so filled with happy anticipation for me. I make an event of it as I tuk tuk it down to my favourite cafe and while sitting ensconced in all that caffeine-warmed intimacy, I absorb the ethereal substance of my environment. I sit with my latte, sipping it hot and gulping it tepid, as i take in the sun-kissed beauty of the Island Downtown. Soaking in the sweet lethargy of a tropical metropolis as it gently undulates into the late morning hours, like a cat languidly treading a much-loved, oft-frequented promenade. Even the busy intersection which the cafe overlooks has the air of the transiently hurried, as the pervasive lagurousness of the place seeps right back into every interval in the automotive street tumult. The verdant green of the Indian Almond and the white-flowered Plumeria trees amplify the constant harkbacks to the tropical abundance of nature even in the heart of the cacophonous city. Two mugs of lacteous latte and my daily dose of spiritual enrichment later, I’m propelled into my daily routine. This early afternoon energy is vitally palpable no matter how late the hour was when I retired to bed the night before – yup, night owlishness is second nature to yours truly!

Most days, I will try and make something of my 11am to 2pm time slot – a much neutralised/ tropicalized throwback to my 9-6 corporate rigour. And in those specially designated hours, i will make my calls, pay my bills online and mostly write. The combined alchemy of my surroundings, the mental vigor bestowed by the caffeine and the relatively recent unleashing of a creative urge long suppressed in the throes of corporate enterprise, has been serendipitously empowering. I write to facilitate not only my flow of self expression, but also to tick-mark the “Productive” box in my day – I realise I’m innately enterprising and even in the midst of time off, i will inject some semblance of stringency to balance work with leisure. I think sometimes, that I might actually have been an industrious worker ant in some not so distantly-elapsed past life. A shining example for my colony, of the love of labour, as i hoisted choice burdens of nourishment 5000 times my weight in the dappled canopy of some tropical fruit tree…. a fruit tree home-base because I would like to believe the spirit of industry came with some smarts too!

Some days, I will give myself a break such as that is when you’re on a never-ending sabbatical, and roam the city. My roaming days tend to be cloudy and therefore more conducive to long, rambling walks across the city’s tree lined avenues. These sojourns extend over a few hours and I may end up circuitously walking 9 or 10 kms. Usually I will detour through shady back lanes laced with copiously flowering trees and creepers nodding their bright-hued heads in the breeze; or strewn almost in staged perfection with all pink or all white or all yellow petals; or adorned with pretty little balconies nurturing their own abundance of foliage, dropping their resplendence across their railings in exuberant, meandering bunches of cats claw yellows and purples.

Six days a week, I will also go for my run in the picturesque surroundings of the neighbourhood park, tree-lined as it is with the Indian almond, the Mara and the Neem*, all casting long eventide shadows onto the flagstones. On quieter evenings which are brought on mainly by a preceding short but animated tropical storm, the beauty and the tranquility of the place are especially sublime. There are only the few weather-intrepid out and about in the aftermath of such a downpour (of which I am one). The trees glisten, the sky clears to reveal entire twinkling constellations and the whole atmosphere is scented with a rich post-rain petrichor*. In the absence of the regular milieu of running, walking, strolling, cycling and otherwise in all manner contorting humanity, the sounds of dusk also find their place in the quietude of nature with the chirp of the crickets, the end-of-day calls of a tardy lapwing and the flapping of occasional wings as nature’s aviary settles for the night.

The weekend also brings with it the cheerful, spirited calls of Downtime for the industriously employed swathes of urbanites. In my tropical metropolis, this translates to an abundance of celebration in the happy torpor of music and tipple as families, friends, frenemies and foes gather to renew love, acquiantanchip, gossip and rivalry. I’m one of those introverted types who surrounds herself with a bubble of solitude and ventures forth to partake of the party; a psychical phenomenon, I have realized, only the reclusively outgoing can relate to.

The beauty of Tropical Urbania* is its rare ability to hold on to its earthiness while manifesting its contemporariness; its deeply organic feel while delivering on its urbanity; and its infinite capacity to feel like nature’s embrace in the midst of all the metropolitan milieu.

This is the city that I love.

De Khudai pe aman

*Neem tree: Indian lilac or mahogany

*Urbania: related to, or of the city

*Petrichor: the smell of the earth immediately after it rains

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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 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 Proposition

*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

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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/ violators and even their protectors to stop the abuse. 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 and the northern parts of India.

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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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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.

FILM PICKINS| STAR TREK – DEEP SPACE 9 (1993 – 1999)

It was slow I admit, the nascency of a connection with the ST-DS9* characters and their Deep Space shenanigans. But by season 2, I had developed a mild fondness for the Captain and his Federation crew. And by season 4, the affection I felt for the space Station denizens was deep-rooted and personal. By season 5, I was already forlornly anticipating the end of the series and feeling at odds with the rest of the Netflix science fiction repertoire.

That is not to say that i was blinded to the obvious shortcomings of the production; they just became tenderly blurred as the characters became increasingly larger than life. I still remember cringing slightly during season 1 and wondering for the 347th time why i felt such a compelling commitment to see every series through, dubious and otherwise, that I’ve embarked on. Here’s what I remember even as I dredge up the memories from the practical, unemotional series-bingeing depths of my mind:

The characters were more than a tad over-dramatic – Captain Sisko often comes across as a stand up comic endearingly poking fun at would-be space bigwigs; while the good Doctor Bashir appears so entranced by his own look, feel and sound that one would be forgiven for mistaking him for the English, Space version of a Doogie Howser impersonator. Major Kira (Colonel now!) is relentless in her adolescent knee jerk outbursts of anger, vengeance and the insatiable need to be the biggest bully in the Alpha quadrant…. nah… all Space. Then there are the dated special effects: the barely camouflaged fluorescent primary coloured lights blinking on 24th century tricorders and control panels; the landing/ disembarkation pads which looked like ponderous railway tunnels; the defiant, brave little ships in space, dithering ever so slightly against their starry backdrop – trembling reminders of their actual minuscule size and mass; the phasers and other laser weapons put to shame by the contents of aisle 15 in Toys ‘r’ Us. But…. like i said, i had to laboriously dig up these first and not so lasting impressions.

What I do remember effortlessly is the superb characterisation of Quark the quintessential Ferengi who’d grown a heart and a bit of a conscience over the course of the 7 seasons; Garak who was as devious and resourceful as he was genteel and intrepid; Dukat the bipolar Cardsassian who fought a war of conscience for most of the 7 seasons, finally relenting with a Bajoran bow and a twisted flourish to his dark side; Weyoun, the Gamma quadrant clone who was as duplicitous as he was “god-fearing”; and of course Vic Fontaine, a holographic throwback to the 1960s Las Vegas rat pack style entertainment who was as good a singer as he was a psychothera-pal for the DS9 crew. All in all, the alien characters of DS9 delivered a far superior performance to that of their human counterparts.

The piece de resistance of the series however, is definitely its ability to take its viewers on a compelling, emotional journey into the lives of its main characters. The cloak and dagger plots set a million light years away from earth still took place in what was essentially a little town with its very own set of the good, the bad and the alien. And that was ultimately what made the series so memorable.

Other Deep Space Distillations:

-The mainstream ethics/ moral compass portrayed by the Federation of planets, while being lofty and aspirational by our boorish 21st century standards, was still shown to be insidiously riddled with intrigue and deception; its Section 31 dutifully and covertly performing all its ungallant business. I suppose some things are so hard-wired into our psyche, a basic distrust of anyone different from ourselves being at the top of that list, that no amount of evolution and sophistication can wring it out of our DNA.

-America, as is customary across the Hollywood universe, bravely endeavoured to save the day or lead from the front. And so unremarkably, Uncle Sam continued to fill in most of the shoes of the DS9 and the Federation nawabs*.

-I discovered a new-found love for Frank Sinatra’s soulful crooning. I’ve had his vocal jazz and swing numbers on quick recall on my phone for the last fortnight. Vic’s repository of the legendary tunes pulls at all the melody-clinched strings of my heart!

-The MC at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony sounded eerily like Worf, the Klingon!

I watched the last show of the last season last night. A net total of 176 episodes viewed, imbibed and psychoanalysed nostalgically during the last 4 weeks. Almost made me forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic as I traversed through space and time with the crew and the citizens of Deep space 9/ Terek Nor.

I leave you with a nostalgic old Sinatra refrain sung by DS9’s own Vic Fontaine, just because it’s such a lovely old song and even half a millennium on, it resonated richly, poignantly, on a space station somewhere in our cosmos.

*ST-DS9: Star Trek – Deep Space 9

*Nawab: a male title which literally means Viceroy; the female equivalent is “Begum” or “Nawab Begum”. The primary duty of a Nawab was to uphold the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor along with the administration of a certain province. In modern times, it is often used to denote men of power.

FOOD SWINGS|The Capital Bar and Grill

RESTAURANT: CAPITAL BAR AND GRILL AT THE SHANGRI-LA HOTEL
ADDRESS: ONE GALLE FACE MALL, COLOMBO 3
CUISINE: MODERN, INTERNATIONAL, CONTINENTAL
Ensconced in the modern, luxurious environs of the Shangrila Hotel, this venue is almost a nostalgic throwback to the bars of the 40s and 50s, with a lovely modern twist.  From the repertoire of live music to the atmosphere, it is warm, retro and relaxing.
I’ve been a number of times to the bar and admit, i have had a varied gamut of experiences.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT:
-The Parking area is dismally inadequate over the weekend as wedding parties, mall goers and hotel patrons all vie for a spot.
-Patrons are not allowed to make reservations at the bar. So if one happens to walk in later than 8.30pm, there may not be a seat/ table available. If there are a significant number of no-shows, put in a process whereby reserving patrons are called 20 mins before their scheduled arrival time to re-confirm their reservation. If they don’t arrive despite the re-confirmation, give the table to someone else.

THE GOOD STUFF!
-The atmosphere definitely. It is luxurious yet comfortable - one can sit back and bask in the lap of old world charm at quite its best in Colombo.
-The food is quite good for the most part.
-The service is good (I do go on about service because it really makes up half the food and hospitality experience. Having been in the Financial Institutions Customer Experience realm for almost a decade, it is almost instinctive now to gauge every aspect of service delivered, from the front-desk manner of the usher to the culinary/ spirits knowledge of the serving staff).
-The live music sessions have always been fabulous. The last time it was a lovely myriad of jazz, folk and country delivered beautifully.

FOOD SWINGS| “RARE” At Uga Residence

RESTAURANT: “RARE” AT UGA RESIDENCE
ADDRESS: PARK STREET, COLOMBO 7
CUISINE: MODERN, INTERNATIONAL, WITH A QUINTESSENTIAL SRI LANKAN TWIST
This was my first time for dinner at the Uga.  

OPPORTUNITY FOR IMPROVEMENT:
There was really only one aspect that got to me. Only because it is so simple to get right... or wrong:

-The bread basket was sadly full of old, crusty pieces of bread which set a somewhat dire tone for the rest of the meal. The staff was quick to respond and they did bring out a fresh bread basket. That was a faux pas that is so easily/ cost effectively avoided.

THE GOOD STUFF!
-The atmosphere was absolutely scintillating. It was just post a monsoon shower and everything was clean and gleaming. The restaurant overlooks a courtyard that is especially beautiful. We requested them to put a table outside for us so we ate al fresco. It was quite surreal.

-The appetisers were quite fabulous, especially the baked cauliflower. The Waldorf salad was not bad second.

-The main courses were quite good. I had the chicken in lemon grass and my partner had the pork belly.

-The service was quite impeccable given that the restaurant was full and the establishment was short-staffed that evening.

-They had a good/ wide selection of wines available (which is a bit of a rarity even at the better bars around town). And they served it beautifully with a decanter and the works. I’m a bit persnickety about how the wine is stored and how it is served since it makes all the difference in flavour preservation. Good storage ensures the sulphites in the wine don’t ferment and “vinegarize” the wine. Good pouring service, with a decanter or an aerater ensures that the wine breathes as much as possible from a newly opened bottle, for the flavours to really come to the fore.

OPINION | A POST PANDEMIC FEIERABEND*

2020 has induced a knee jerk reaction all its own. The instinct to be glad to have seen the back of it as it goes careening into the past, swept along by our combined tsunami of emotions, is palpable in the various conversations had around it. I have tended to hesitate making my voice one with the rest of the inflamed clamour. I have tended to warp speed away from the present to take a far and away, Space Odyssey-like view of the last 300 odd days, and counting. If you ask me then, it is almost like a universal recalibration of the important things in life, presented to us in cosmic fable form; Aesop and Arthur C. Clarke hitting more than a few psycho-social home runs in the timorous expanse of our current life-space.

I have a couple of friends, lovely people, who, simply put, have been bested by life mentally and emotionally. Who have, over the years of “living a productive life” been inextricably caught up in undefined little crags of disquietude – one could call it manic depression on its bad days. Occasional bouts of frustration and anxiety have, over time, taken permanent space in their psyches. So insidious and sly has this psychosis been, that its backlash of exasperation, rage and the unrelenting need to fit in just so, are now synonymous with the spirit of enterprise, success and community. Caught up as we all are in this crazy limbo between life and the final farewell, the essential catharsis comes in the shape of frequent and voluble sounding off on one another. We rave and we rant about the government’s woeful ineptitude, the kilos that just keep piling on, the hijacking of our religion by the crazed Right and the lack of a glass of wine when you need it most to get just a little comfortably numb. We are, one and all, veritable shrinks; roles we have inadvertently taken on, given the stigma attached to the clinical psychological recourse. But when we’re talking of a chronic mental pandemic, everyone pitches in to do their bit in braving a dear one’s purgative assault on their senses. We absorb until our own cups brimmeth over, and then, we return friendly fire!

The truth is, we have all been existing in some version of a survival mode.

And then the pandemic struck.

As it took root and raged, these friends, through no impetus of their own or the social and professional structures they so meticulously occupied, were suddenly left to themselves. Their ties to the lives they’d lived, severed for a few months. And so, left with no choice, they sat back and healed. The transformation has been stunning. They appear happier, calmer and at peace – at least for now. In all its perverse, blood thirsty ravagement, the Pandemic has somehow also helped to heal in the simplest, most unexpected way – by enforcing long bouts of time-out on us in the (mostly!) safe havens of our abodes, enabling us to once again understand and appreciate what it is like for the mind, heart and soul to realign.

I can make the above keen-eyed observation if you will, with some level of distance from the malady we call a “Successful Life” because 5 years ago, i decided to give a bit of a flying kick to what had become my reality – work, workout, dinner and bed – ad infinitum. I may even have, over time, transcended in some modest way, to a higher plane of mindfulness and centredness: Each new day is a blessing, I value my health, I cherish my peace of mind and the sum total of my acquisitive aspirations now boils down to experiences rather than material appropriations.

This past year of being forced to sit back and smell the Araliya*, has been just about long enough to bring us as a species to that critical crossroad. The question before us is that when we do re-embark on the bandwagon of industry and undertaking, how do we proceed from there? Do we continue to live with each day blending insipidly, blandly and sometimes aggressively, even militantly into the next, underscored always by burgeoning bank balances and power mongering? Or do we embrace the timorous quality of life itself and the need to re-evaluate and make it really worthwhile?

For my part, I have this instinctive gut feel. Gone are the days (or very nearly) when bosses evaluated one’s productivity as being proportional to the number of hours that were spent in the hallowed Halls of Slog, empty and fruitless though many of those hours might have been. The new generation workforce impelled by the way our conventional workplaces and work lives have been altered over the past year, is looking for ever smarter, ever shorter, ever more flexible ways to get the job done. In another decade or so, the look and feel of Human Capital will itself undergo a sea change: it will be about new ideologies, epiphanies and insights rather than the sum total of man hours spent on a project, that will determine success. The workforce will be intrepid, and driven on a whole new level – explorers of the very frontiers of the human equation.

And that universal affliction – that global psychosis brought on by the bullheadedness of the 21st century that our lives are so woefully beset by – that may just finally find its nemesis in a post pandemic Feierabend.

“To create the new, we must first de-create the old, and the reality of de-creation is as strong as the reality of creation”**

Feierabend: A German term meaning the time of leisure and relaxation between the end of the work day and bedtime. It denotes a connection to one’s core, of family, friends, hobbies and ones mindspace. In the context of this feature, it means a whole new ideology of how we gauge progress and success as we more fully embrace our humanity.

*Araliya: The colloquial term for the fragrant Frangipani or Plumeria flower/ tree

**Quote by Helen Vendler, an American literary critic and Porter University’s Professor Emerita at Harvard University. 

VERSE|A WALK TO DECEMBER*

December 2020 has trundled in at last - 
Dawned is far too genial a word to use for what’s been a blast
Of a year, of our lifetimes, of living memory too they say
So on this blessed December day, I’m wishing it all away!

May the Corona perish in the gentle warmth of spring
Helped along by its archnnemesis, the grand old vaccine.
May the dearly departed find rest and cosmic grace;
May their earth-bound loved ones begin to make their peace
With losses, grief and tender hearts;
With new endings and even newer starts.

But most of all, let us hold on to the quietness within,
The fruits of all those locked-down hours of introspection;
May that stillness guide us in the years to come,
To live a life more fulfilled, to let our purposes be done;
To become intimate again with our humanity,
To learn to give, to love, to coexist more easily.

Another end of year is upon us once again
Nuanced as it is with a ragged, shadowy mein.
Even in its greyness, it is ripe with the promise of better days;
Of togetherness and laughter, of joy and celebration,
Of birthdays, anniversaries and triumphant graduations.

May 2021 be a soulful, wholesome distillate
Of all the growing-up we’ve had to do over the last year;
May it help us recover our little magical moments
The joyful alchemy of all that we hold dear.

So family, friends, neighbours and those merrily blundering on this digital wire
Have yourselves a very merry Xmas and a happy new year.

De Khudai pe aman

*Title inspired from A Walk to Remember, a 2002 American coming of age romantic drama

**Read the highlighted words in sequence from top to bottom for the Blackout poem/ phrase within the poem. It reads: December 2020 a year bound with losses, but our humanity once again is ripe to recover all that we hold dear.

FEATURE|The Bloodsoaked Rhymes of our Nursery

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

A lovely old quatrain, filled with the promise of blood and gore (or at the very least, massive quantities of ill-fated yolk!). Or how about:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby, cradle and all!

The doomful melodrama spanning from the cradle to the grave was never more succinctly played out than in the above poem. Or then:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after!

Another rhyme, another disquieting tragedy at the heart of which are the children – always the children, as its main characters. The more of these nursery rhymes you recall, the more you’ll be reminded of the copiously sinister top note in almost all of them. Ranging from racism to bigotry to plain old sadism, these rhymes from our childhood embodied them all. Try reciting a few others like, Eenie meenie miny mo”, “London bridge is falling down”, “Sing a song of sixpence”, “Little Miss Muffet”, “Old Mother Hubbard” and “Goosey goosey gander” – all straight up threatening or woeful or just plain evil! Some of them are actually pithy, blackhearted little odes to actual personages and their peculiar quirks, like Mary the 1st’s religious malevolence – (Three Blind Mice), King Edward the 1st’s cruel avarice – (Baa Baa Black Sheep), the wonton love affairs of the royal European courts and its many colorful denizens; and also a myriad plagues, witches and famines. These rhymes were akin to recording history for quick, unprejudiced recall. And so, what better way than as a child’s beloved refrain, repeated ad nauseam, passed on from generation to generation; the rhyme and meter keeping it true to its original foreboding self.

Indeed, for many of us, nursery rhymes were probably the first few words we ever uttered with any pleasure after the general familial ID allocations of Mama and Papa. I still remember the infinite pleasure, comfort and toddler-centredness (there has to be such a thing!) I derived from repeating these much-loved childhood rhymes. And once the novelty of “she already knows all her nursery rhymes” or “tell aunty what happened to Humpty Dumpty” wore off, the adults also became innocently, resignedly tangled in our whole love affair with these refrains. The slightly disturbing thing is, had they known of the morbid origins of the rhymes we were so lovingly taught, how many would have still thought, let well enough alone; if it makes the kids happy, let them sing of old men being thrown down rickety stairs and babies falling out of their tree top cradles. And they wouldn’t be entirely to blame. Generations of painting the malignant with the brush of hunkydoriness quite entirely dilutes outage and indeed, skews the moral compass itself: Atrocity takes on a happy vagueness; racism becomes invisible; patriarchy adroitly sits atop any semblance of gender equality, and so on. And so now we are all quite happily complicit in perpetuating the crazed ramblings of 400 years ago, cloaked as they are in the rhythm of rhyme and meter. The nursery rhymes of our childhood, thus made eternal, are now forever rolling and roiling in the ether.

The attached link details some of the social madness that inspired many of the most beloved nursery rhymes that we grew up with: https://www.vagabomb.com/10-Dark-and-Disturbing-Origins-of-Popular-Nursery-Rhymes/

Now that we know, seems like it may be time to change the lyrics at least, while keeping the nostalgia-laden tunes/ meter alive. That too requires a break from the inertia of tradition. I’ll begin the Great Re-hash with the below rendering of a favourite. Any other shakers of the status quo, give your favourite a go.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great thought:
What if all the kings horses
And all the kings men,
Danced a nice foxtrot

Across Goblin’s Glen!
Hello, I’m the Humpty that didn’t have a great fall

CORPORATE SERIES|Demystifying Organizational Success – (Part 3)

Customer Experience Management and Training 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 corporate life across 3 separate organisations, methodically 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 hotel reservation 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 an all-encompassing 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) also 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 or Learning.

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 lead to an increase in 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 as they do on full blown, overarching learning initiatives, 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 Highbrow, thus missing the Simplicity of the Sublime!

In conclusion, a strategically relevant Customer Experience and Learning 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 its 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 knowledge, passion, empathy and grit. The professional that i am today has a lot to do with my embodiment of these values as I, without omission, undertook the role of the resident “fixer upper”. It was also a dogged perseverance in finding solutions even in the midst of the most turbulent corporate maelstroms, that led to success.

*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.