Tuesday, 1 December 2015

FROM COOLIES TO CEOs...ENTHRALLING TRAIL OF INDIAN DIASPORA

India being one of the oldest and rich civilizations of the world always charmed invaders,merchants,adventurers,learned men,asylum seekers and travelers from all over the world all these years.But in contrast Indian diaspora-Indians settled abroad- is comparatively young-only over two centuries old, except otherwise in stray cases. 

It is an irony that the very developed nations who thought of employing Indians as coolies two centuries back now happily employ Indian professionals to run their companies,hospitals,scientific institutions,Engineering projects and universities.It includes Nobel laureates,CEOs of Fortune 500 and other lead companies,specialist doctors,eminent scientists and engineers,top finance,legal and IT professionals.....businessmen...... notwithstanding the fact that Indian blue collared labor in thousands still flows out to many countries!This is not an isolated bubble in US or Canada but in many European, West Asian or Far Eastern countries.

Coolie is a term used in for unskilled Indian or Chinese laborer by the west. In India too the word is innocently used to mean a person who indulges in labor or a porter in a railway station.Many who don senior positions in alien lands now may not be aware that the first trade of an Indian who worked abroad was that of a humble coolie- may be three or four generations back!! Here I am taking current stock of the Indian diaspora in which I have first hand exposure while recalling how and when it started!




India - a rich country with a poor people!How and when Indian diaspora started...

India is a rich country-always had been-in culture,wealth,scientific knowledge..... but unfortunately was in controls of a small percentage of population due to social system prevailed or invaders until independence. Poverty and illiteracy among a good  section of people was exploited well by that small percentage or invaders like in any other old civilizations of the world.Due to lack of contacts with outside world then or due to self withdrawn character of the society, India missed the chance to hop in the bus of radical change - Renaissance,Reformation,French Revolution and Industrial Revolution- in 14th century which changed eventually Europe to better conditions! But for a small percentage of population which was rich,educated and cultured by any standards,Indians remained by and large a poor people within a rich country  as mute poor subjects to local kings and chieftains, invading conquerors and colonists until independence in 1947!

Except for migration of Indian traders in small numbers to East Africa and South East Asia or in case of gypsies of Indian origin, only towards mid of 18th century that Indians started working outside the country. The British who were in power in India, once got consolidated,'wisely' decided to use Indian unskilled labor-known as coolies- in sugar,rubber or oil palm plantations and construction sites in their other colonies-Malaya,Burma and Mauritius.By 1878 it extended to Guyana,Trinidad,South Africa,Suriname and Fiji. As mostly from poor,down trodden and discriminated class of Indian society, workers on menial jobs went abroad on indentured basis-written contract,Indian diaspora has started.The British preferred Indian coolies over local labor because it was cheap,works well under supervision and easily manageable.So also Chinese labor was also simultaneously used by the British.The main difference of Indian laborer with a Chinese was that most of the Indians lived those days too with families and eventually settled in those countries!

Independence of India predictably drove the last nail to British Imperialism. All those countries mentioned above followed India in getting freedom.Indians who had spent two generations by that time there had become part and parcel of those countries in various professions and careers including own business and contributed to the economy .Educated professionals from all classes of India joined that crowd after independence!

To West, Ahoy!
People who migrated to UK from colonial India initially in late 18th and early 19th centuries were mostly menial job seekers. In spite UK is far from India, better living standards,educational,career and financial opportunities available there made it an attractive destination for Indians thereafter.After 1947 when India became independent the flow thickened considerably.Today Indian community in UK is a thriving one in various professions and business, the same way Indian 'curry' has become popular among the British.

As early as 1960s and 1970s,Indian scientists and engineers have been working in NASA,Boeing and classified US Govt owned scientific labs.Indian doctors are rated as one of the best available in the countries such as UK,USA,Canada and Australia....in US being the most sought after!There are noticeable percentage of Indians among teaching faculty of several US universities including those in Ivy League ones.There are quite a number of Indians working in IT industry including those who work in Indian owned such companies operating in US.Indian nurses always preferred US as their first choice.Notwithstanding the fact that there are quite a number of Indians employed as taxi drivers and skilled technicians, para medical staff, those who work in traditional business of real estate and retailing, per capita income of Indian community in US is 60% higher than average per capita of the country shows where an Indo American stands in the society.

West Asia..Gulf states

Following oil boom in late 1960s and 1970s,countries such as Iran,Iraq and GCC countries (Saudi Arabia,Kuwait,Oman,UAE,Qatar and Bahrain) became prominent job donors.They were in a hurry to develop their basic facilities and infrastructure using the newly found wealth.Deprived of own skilled labor those countries offered job opportunities to all but the extreme climatic conditions without air conditioners or acceptable living facilities attracted only few.

Historically the GCC countries had a long and live relationship with India esp places in Kerala,Hyderabad and Mumbai.Unemployment among the youth of Kerala encouraged them to go to Gulf states who worked initially as drivers,maid servants,shop assistants,office peons,helpers and the like in sixties or early seventies.Those who were graduates found opportunities to work as accountants,office assistants,salesmen.'Malabar' stood for India among uneducated Arabs those days!..Unemployment or under employment among engineering degree and diploma holders in Kerala and elsewhere in India in the seventies made them to make a dash to GCC countries who found green pastures soon. Establishment of large hospitals offering lucrative salaries made professional nurses and other para medical staff from India run to those countries and the same trend continues to this day! It may be interesting to note that almost all the local Arab households in Gulf states employ mostly Indians from Kerala as drivers to this date. In the same way almost all neighborhood convenience stores- grocery,vegetable,meat,fish shops- and small and big super markets are run by Indians in silent partnerships with locals!



Came 1990s, the flow continued from all over India.So also from many other countries.By then the local Arabs had the taste of all work cultures of different nationalities employed in GCC from West,East,Far East,Other Arab,Africa,Indian sub continent.... but the chemistry between Arab employers and Indian employees worked well. The Arabs had much more faith in the enterprising and loyal Indians among all.Demand for Indian visas sky rocketed in those countries. Indians reciprocated with their warmth and sincerity ultimately occupying 50-60% of total expatriates.

 Mainly two factors which prevailed in the GCC countries those days made professional Indians also to go to Gulf states at this time. First the local Arabs appreciating the skills of Indians started employing them in the managerial and senior positions or offered business partnerships,a trend until then reserved for other Arabs from non oil producing countries and the British, like in Qatar.Secondly the first phase of development was over in those countries which offered better living standards than in India those days.Thereafter professional engineers and managers, chartered accountants and specialist doctors from all over India also joined the diaspora while the para engineering ,para medical and blue collared workmen continued their presence.As of now increase in salary and job opportunities in India,while prices of oil has dropped drastically  may affect the quantity and quality of flow to GCC countries at least temporarily. The fact that foreigners will not be given citizenship under any circumstances in GCC,makes qualified and professional Indians to look for the west.But to have a lucrative executive tax free career for few years and back to India,Gulf is still attractive!

East...Australia and others...
Indian diaspora in Singapore among all the eastern countries is the most significant- over 9% of total population which has a history of two centuries.
In Australia most of the Indians have settled in the current century.
In the African continent other than South Africa, Indian diaspora has a significant impact in Kenya,Uganda and Tanzania.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICKY ! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIA !


1960s and early 1970s was the period  when I had developed a taste for products of Walt Disney. It started with printed comic books but later we -Kochiites- had the opportunity to view Hollywood movies regularly, a rarity in India those pre TV  days at 'Sridhar'.Like good condiments to a dish,documentaries and cartoons were always exhibited there prior to commencement of actual movies.Those short screenings which I used to enjoy immensely might have triggered in me my life long penchant for travel and enjoy meeting people from varied cultures. 

Now I find Maria-fondly named as Mia-our two years old grand daughter too have fallen for Micky and Minnie Mouses!In this month of  November Micky completes 87 years while Mia will become 2 years old... She reinstated in me the pleasure of enjoying once again the episodes of Micky and Co...Minnie,Donald,Daisy,Pluto,Goofy.... In this occasion I am trying to fish out the little known but interesting facts related to creation of  Micky Mouse and thereafter. 








Most recognizable image...
Along with that of Santa Claus,Micky mouse is considered to be the most popular image  world.While most of the studios in the developed world were providing silent films,Walt Disney adapted souredever created in thnd and introduced Micky to the world with the release of 'Steamboat Willie'.That was on 18 November 1928. It was a welcome change for the developed world not withstanding the fact that few countries thought that Micky mouse may scare children and banned it for sometime! Interestingly Disney himself provided original voices for Micky and Minnie from 1929 to 1946!Walt Disney got an Oscar as early as 1932.

Micky and Minnie were married..so also their voice actors!
Many may not be aware that Walt Disney had confirmed that Micky and Minnie are a couple who married in private.

We all know that voice acting-art of providing voices for animated characters- is very important in cartoons and animated short films which continues to this day.After Walt Disney,many have been voice actors or actresses for Micky and Minnie mouses.For a long period of 32 years- from 1977 to 2009- voice acting was done by Wayne Allwire for Micky.Actress Russi Taylor began performing for Minnie Mouse in 1986 and going strong to this day.Wayne and Russi got married in 1991 and remained together till Wayne died in 2009!

Micky 'participated' in second world war!
It could be an absorbing news that Micky Mouse had participated and contributed in the second world war,obviously for Allied forces!

During the war, people in the affected areas and expected to be affected areas in US and some countries of Europe were encouraged to use gas masks against chemical attack. In spite of lot of training, many young children resisted use of such masks, may be seeing the shape of it or the discomfort of wearing it.Authorities came out with a better and effective solution.They introduced gas masks shaped as Micky Mouse designed by none other than Walt Disney.



We all know about the D Day. On 6th June 1944 Allied forces invaded northern France in Normandy by means of a beach landing. The well kept secret move by them caught the enemy by surprise which eventually changed the course of the war and history of the world. But what most of us may not be aware is that the secret password used between intelligence US officers for this most secretive operation was " Micky Mouse"!

Micky has only four fingers...
Walt Disney gave only four fingers to Micky.First reason is that he thought five fingers will be too much for a mouse. Second reason is a clever business move.During initial and many subsequent years making a cartoon film was by drawing thousands of drawings.A short film of 6 minutes duration required about 45000 drawings!Walt Disney studios might have saved a lot of money - in millions- if one add up the time saved by not drawing that fifth finger!

Micky,Minnie and co moves to amusement parks....
'A park where parents and children could go and have a good time together' was the idea of Walt Disney when he decided to have amusement park after his success in motion pictures and TV programs. Disneyland was first opened in US at California in 1955 where Walt Disney personally supervised the construction.

In 1971, Epcot centre and Animal Kingdom- two bigger theme parks were opened at Orlando which remain big tourist attractions to this day. Now Disney land is world wide-at Tokyo,Paris,Hong Kong and Shanghai as well.I had the opportunity to visit some. Not only parents but grand parents also can equally enjoy them along with or without grand children,I can assure you....

                                     

                                     

Walt Disney died in 1966. He was the holder of maximum number of individual Oscar wards-22!I do not have any doubt that some of the characters he created will remain popular for decades to come!

Photos:Courtesy Walt Disney Studios.


                                                                                                                                                          

Thursday, 1 October 2015

BEWITCHING BAHAMAS.......CAPTIVATING COCO CAY!

Born and brought up in a sea side town I am much more comfortable with sea than mountains,deserts or forests.Ships-passenger ,cargo or naval- was a familiar sight to me from day one.Naturally I had the opportunity to visit them many times....

Earliest memory of such a visit could be in 1958, at my age eight  when one of my maternal uncles migrated to US, at a time when aeroplanes  were difficult to access from India.Later my brother and I could visit an oil tanker including the engine room and  meet the captain,thanks to my father who was then working with Shell Oil Co.I remember that I have  twice visited naval ships including air craft carrier while in  school.When many of my engineering college friends joined various shipping lines as marine engineers, whenever their ships anchored at Kochi, I used to visit them as much possible to enjoy Orange Boom,Cutty Sark or Lucky Strike, a rarity in India those days! While at Doha, another sea side city, I have visited few ships, while sighting a ship was more easier than seeing a camel.Some time back when we visited the Greek Isles, we had a day time cruise but in a small vessel.......


But my dream of spending few days in a luxury liner became fruitful only recently when we -Geetha and I- could cruise in a Royal Caribbean ship to Bahamas...... to alluring  uninhabited island of Coco Cay...





'Enchantment of Seas'.....
The checking in process at the hall of port Canaveral, Orlando,US, before we could board the ship, was much smoother,systematic and courteous than expected.Their announcement for the disabled and old passengers to board first was appreciable,something India has to pick up yet, in spite we claim ourselves more humane than west.But their instruction not to take along booze on board was annoying but understandable- that's the way they make money!As soon as we walked into the impressive  central atrium of the ship and went around a bit,while waiting few minutes for our allotted state room to be ready, gave my mind a signal that the voyage was going to be very good.This Finnish built cruise liner 'Enchantment Of Seas' of Royal Caribbean International looked grand to me as we enjoyed their facilities for the next three days.

Lavish food- not limited to continental- served in spacious and well kept dining halls, live shows staged in large and luxurious theater with balconies, bars in different sizes and themes,crowded casino, comfortable lounges- may be half a dozen of them, so many big and fast elevators including panoramic ones in action,quiet library,quite of number of cafes including one for internet, shopping arcades were all to five star standards. Swimming pools,spa,beauty saloons were all there apart from facilities for sports lovers such as mini golf course,jogging track,fitness centers, facility for rock climbing........could me more.

Passengers-2400 of them- were a mix of young,old and very old couples or families,may be half of them Americans and the other half from rest of the world.As I have been harping for some time, Indian participation is growing in many ways in cruise liners as well.On the first day evening in the central atrium with its multi storied circular balconies full of passengers, there was an introduction program done by the captain of the ship Thomas. While he announced number and nationality of crew in the ship, the respective flag of the country is exhibited by few crew and selectively a popular song from that country is played.Indians were the highest among the crew-120 out of 840.And when it came to the turn of India, a popular Punjabi Bankara tune was played and you can view live what happened in the following short videos:-



                                                            'Live' Indian participation

Captivating Coco Cay....
Coco Cay was the second and the last stop over of the cruise, the first being Nassua, capital of Bahamas.As the ship anchored few kilometers- may be 10- from the island,passengers started disembarking to boats provided to ferry to this magical, uninhabited island. When we landed in the wooden jetty, first thing which I noticed was availability of wheelchairs there too!Coco Cay is on the tip of the chain of Berry Islands of The Bahamas.The tropical island is just amazing with its clean white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue water around. This is privately leased by Royal Caribbean International which has done the facilities and maintains the same exclusively for their passengers, as I understand.As one enters the island signs on freshly painted boards are all over.


                                       'Enchantment Of Seas' anchored off isle of Coco Cay

The hosts have set everything in place for the visitors to relax and enjoy this uninhabited island which covers 140 acres.Apart from Swimming and sun bathing, aquatic facilities such as scuba diving, snorkeling,ride in glass bottomed boat around the island and others were available.It was a good change that no WiFi or internet was available in the island.A market mostly for clothing,hats and souvenirs were there run by Bahamians called 'Straw Market'. I befriended one of the shop keepers by talk & asked him with US being so close why he has not migrated there.His answer was not expected-"Oh no.I dont want to live there the way discrimination exists for black". He continued "Here I am happy"!

Frozen 'Coco Loco' in tall glasses put on a bench was too tempting for me not to buy.It is a cocktail frozen drink-mix of rum,cream of coconut and fruit juices blended with ice which is famous for Bahamas.I collected one of it on the way to board glass bottomed boat ride. The trip was good as expected with the live and humorous talk of the driver cum tour guide than what we could see round.I had compared this man's performance to those in the same trade at my home town Kochi. Has to agree that Kochi has to learn a lot in spite we have a lot more to offer to international tourists.

The BBQ lunch they provided on the island was just superb - not only the dishes but also the way the buffet was arranged on the sandy beach was a good change as well as enjoyable.

The whole journey in the ship was smooth without any rolls caused by wind or waves. This is because huge retractable stabilizers on both sides beneath the water level on the sides of the ship are fitted as I could understand later from one of my cousins who is is veteran marine chief engineer.


Note:Photos and videos are mine.






Tuesday, 1 September 2015

HORTUS MALABARICUS AND BOLGHATY PALACE... THE HOLLAND CONNECTIONS

The sight of Bolghaty Palace on the tip of the palm fringed island,with the modern gantry cranes of modern Kochi port sticking out in the background is unique.Merging with the historical Chinese fishing nets and modern marina beside, as the ships come in from the Arabian sea to the port,is something which has to be experienced especially at sunset.Best viewed photogenically from the marine drive of main land Ernakulam, which I do very often these days,this could be one of the most scenic sea-bound spots anywhere else in the world- Venice,Stockholm,San Francisco... I do admire the skills of the Dutch who spotted this island as back as 350 years to build this palace, residence of their governor, which is now a known tourist hotel.

The Dutch who had captured Kochi(Cochin) from the Portuguese in 1663 lost it in 1795.Like other colonists the Dutch were primarily interested only to trade with India for spices but became the masters of the region,since they were smarter and we were stupid-at least then.They had to give up their prized possession after 132 years to the British.But in between they had contributed to India two good things knowingly or otherwise which we enjoy to this day - Hortus Malabaricus and Bolghaty Palace.


Bolgaty ....as viewed from the main land ... at sun rise and sun set

Dutch rule in India

Black pepper of Kerala,India was identified by the rest of the world as early as first century BC.Thanks to Hippalus wind invented at the same time, it invited fortune seekers and adventurists from the world over- Greeks,Romans,Chinese,Phoenicians,Arabs- to Muziris,a natural port of ancient days off Arabian Sea, only few kilometers from present day Kochi. Europeans came much later....centuries after.

The Dutch East India Company which was formed in The Netherlands(also incorrectly known as Holland) in 1602 for exclusively trading activities in the Indies- India, Ceylon, Indonesia...- was a success accomplishing its aim. Huge profits they could grab out beating all their rival East India companies and they settled in India displacing the Portuguese.Being a maritime company for trade, huge warehouses for storing spices and other goods of their interest-pepper,cardamom,coir,copra.... were established near the coastal towns of India. Kochi was their regional headquarters in India because it was a natural port,centralized location to collect spices of Kerala and the local king was more than friendly to them.

Comparing to Portuguese, the Dutch in India were better in many ways.They were protestant Christians but were not interested in religious conversions and tolerant to other religions unlike Catholic Portuguese who were not only interested in conversions but also successfully engineered a major split in native Saint Thomas christian church,one of the earliest christian churches anywhere in the world, believed to be founded in 56 AD by Saint Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ who visited Muzirus!  Interestingly even bells manufactured in The Netherlands were donated by the Dutch to Hindu temples like one at Varkala and Haripad which are still kept by them.

Hortus Malabaricus
The words are in Latin which means Garden of Malabar(Kerala). It is a collection of books based on detailed study of rare plant species existed in Kerala,India.It was published at Amsterdam between 1678 and 1703 in Latin, the accepted language for European scientific works those days. Written by Hendrik Adrian Van Rheede who was the Dutch Governor for the princely state of Kerala for 7 years, it contains 12 volumes.Along with Latin it used other scripts of Sanskrit,Malayalam,Arabic.,Portuguese and Flemish.

It is appreciative that descriptive botanical details of 794 rare-mostly medicinal- plants with illustrations were made and published by a foreign ruler about 340 years back! The Governor also noted down information on socio cultural conditions prevailed in this part of India.I am not a professional in Botany but what I could find out is that to this day Hortus Malabaricus is considered as  a scientific reference collection in its field.




Hortus Malabaricus in print with a typical sketch

Nevertheless it has to be pointed out that but for few Indians namely Ranga Bhat,Vinayak Bhat,Appu Bhat and Itty Achuthan who had immensely contributed their knowledge for making the process of collection and studies of rare plants,such a publication would not have been possible. Illustrations were made by an Italian Carmelite priest named Mathews who was in and around Kochi then,which have come out strikingly accurate.

Bolghaty Palace
This building was constructed by the Dutch as the residence of their governor in 1744. Not only this palace is an architectural-mix of Dutch and Kerala traditions- beauty,I have to but admire the selection of the location.A spot of Mulavukadu island where all the three sides have the back waters. Until recently it was an island but now well connected by a bridge as well.

During my teenage, 'Ponjikkara' where the palace is exactly located was a favourite spot of youngsters not only to wander around the palace which had a golf course but also because of a famous shop nearby for toddy - a mild alcoholic drink made from Coconut tree. The place had to be accessed then by a ferry or by row boat which guarantees privacy from public in the main land was an added attraction for us students apart from the delicious food it served!

                                     Magnificent  Bolgaty Palace

It is said this building with vast and expansive rooms is the existing oldest Dutch mansion outside The Netherlands.Kerala Govt is running it now as a resort keeping the traditional looks as it is and a visit  there is worth for anyone- value for your money.
Photos:Courtesy Google

Saturday, 1 August 2015

IT'S SIMPLY GRAND !

Which is the most visited location on earth by international tourists these days?Eiffel Tower? Times Square,Taj Mahal or Niagara Falls?None of these but one of the most sought after locations of late, if not the most, is Grand Bazaar of Istanbul,Turkey.Hailing from India,a country full of bazaars of all kinds did not stop me a bit to relish the outstanding experience of being there......in the oldest and largest market of the world. Kapalcarsi as called in Turkish is fully covered with 60 streets inside,thousands of shops-nearly 4000,several cafes,restaurants and the like, it is officially known to be visited by 250000 to 400000 people daily!!Thats the population of  the state of Brunei!!

                             
                                   One of the entrances of Grand Bazaar
Qatar.....
I am very familiar to bazaars from day one.India is full of bazaars of all kinds everywhere to the extent I believed that concept of bazaars came from India. But actually it  originated in Zoroastrian Persia.Arab world also has a lot of similar markets which they call as souqs. 

In Qatar Souq Waqif which is as old as 100 years was recently revamped to have the old charm but to remain clean,neat and attractive keeping the traditional architectural beauty.Right from pets to traditional local goods, garments,spices,perfumes,handicrafts and souvenirs are sold here. It is also a place for art pieces. First hotel ever in Qatar-Bismillah Hotel -which was the brain child of an Indian few decades back, stands to its old glory! A lot of restaurants offering varied local and international cuisines are open. Definitely  this is a place to be visited when you are in Qatar especially from October to March when the climate is more enjoyable but I have to admit none of these bazaars or souqs of India or Qatar can come near to the grandness of Grand Bazaar of Istanbul.


                                             Souq Wakif,Doha

From Constantinople to Istanbul..
Few years before mighty Roman empire had fallen down,by the year 324 Emperor Constantine had transferred the capital from Rome to Byzantium,later known as Constantinople, deriving the name from the founder. From Latin to Greek and Roman Christianity to Orthodox were the main changes.Byzantine Empire which can be summarized as Eastern Roman Empire went through many cycles of victories,expansions,decline and recovery until it was conquered fully by the Ottoman Muslims in the 15th century.Under Ottoman empire from a centre of Christianity it  turned to that of Muslims and from Constantinople to Istanbul.Ottoman Empire flourished for 500 years there and fell out ultimately leading to the creation of modern Turkey. 

Soon after, the Ottomans were in the saddle of power after the conquest of Istanbul, Grand Bazaar was started in an old Byzantine building made of wood in the 15th century .As years and centuries passed new additions and sections were added. Grand Bazaar had to go through many fires and earthquakes but survived on repairs each time after such mishaps.The whole bazaar was rebuilt in stone as we see now after a big fire it had to face in mid fifties.May be because Istanbul has gone through different phases of cultures of history like India, it is unique in the world.The place has quite a few places to charm the visitors,Grand Bazaar included.

It is just grandiose...
Colourful,vibrant, full of goods like ceramics, hand made carpets, lanterns, copper and brass ware, products of leather,antiques, diamonds.....the bazaar is always live with local people as well as foreigners.One need not necessarily buy anything but just a stroll in the bazaar could be a unique experience.Even better, sitting in one of the cafes watching all sorts of people from around the globe in all sorts of dresses could be an experience.For me it was very interesting to watch the smart,clever salesmen and shop keepers in action of sales tactics and bargaining!

One of the salesmen surprised us - me and Geetha- as we walked in the bazaar repeating a dialogue of Amitabh Bachhan from a Hindi commercial!Many shop men were welcoming us with folded hands saying "Namasthe".I was sure that there are many Indian visitors there these days like elsewhere in the world and also because the fact that Hindi movies are very popular in Turkey, the way it is in Gulf states, Middle East,Far East, Africa.....

                          Grand Bazaar during peak and non peak hours

Art of bargaining...negotiations in Qatar
Coming to bargaining tactics and I have to admit I was a raw student when I came to Qatar three decades back.In India either they bargain for expensive goods like houses, apartments,cars etc or in flea or fish markets but bargaining was not an integral part of daily life- personal or official.  In Qatar,for that matter in most of the  Arab countries, bargaining comes in every day life. And in business, skill in negotiations is the fundamental requisite to come up in an executive career! Even in official bids even if your price is the lowest against the client set tender terms, the client expects further discounts! While attending post tender meetings with clients or associates in business initially as CEO, I used to get outwitted by others especially local Arabs who are really good in that skill, I have to admit.

Slowly but steadily I started learning the skill in the trade in the hardest way- by constant practice.My continued exposure to management books in the local British Council library helped me to professionalize the little talents within me.Close and continuous business interaction with much better persons than me in the field, thankfully from everywhere in the world,really gave me a boost in this matter. Last twenty years I think I could perform negotiations reasonably well with all in Qatar, although it is others and not me to judge. Any way for me initially it was as difficult as selling ice stick to Eskimos but later started enjoying it for obvious reasons!!

Bargaining is limited to haggling for prices which is a sublet of the larger term negotiations. Many I have seen do not know the difference between the two and try to arm twist the other at the slightest given opportunity. Good negotiation is not just being a winner outsmarting the other but making a win-win situation where both parties can agree on reasonable terms to get things done.Business relationships thrive in that way for longer periods benefiting both parties.

Had bargaining over prices and quality of products sold were not fair for the visitors, Grand Bazaar of Istanbul would not have survived all these centuries. This basic principle is applicable in all sectors of business anywhere in the world!

PHOTOS:Some are mine and others courtesy to google.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

CABRAL'S VOYAGE...

I had been to Kochi-Muziris Biennale- International festival of contemporary art- Second Edition which recently concluded.Modern art works of paintings and sculptures exhibited there they say are of world class,inviting thousands from abroad but falls short of my poor tastes to enjoy!This has been my personal short coming always- conventional art I can enjoy but not modern art!! Art of Micheal Angelo, Raphael or Ravi Varma... anything conventional I can but modern art of Picasso or others it is difficult for me to understand,forget about enjoyment! But all the venues of the biennale seems to be hand picked which are unique...all have history of few centuries to be told but one among them stood out for me-CABRAL YARD.'Whorled Explorations' is the caption for the biennale but I shall write about an exploratory but epoch making trip made to Kochi (Cochin), over 500 years back which changed course of history!

Everyone who has gone through the basics of world explorations knows about Vasco Da Gama,the Portuguese navigator,who has been instrumental in finding a new sea route from Europe to India in 1498. No student of world history can forget him. But what about Cabral, in whose memory still a yard exists in Kochi,India? Cabral who was destined to influence history of Brazil and  India is not known in India the way Da Gama is for many reasons.I know that history could be boring to many but I have tried to make it more palpable..







Cape of Storms makes way for Hopes....

1488.Renaissance period in Europe. Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias makes the discovery of southern tip of South Africa and names it 'Cape of Storms' to match the difficult conditions prevailed to navigate.It took some time for the Portuguese King to understand that such a discovery could be a break through to find a new route to India based on which they renamed the tip as 'Cape of Good Hope' as is known to date....as a good omen.

India and the East were enchanting to Europeans from  day one of recorded history.Spices of Malabar coast of India especially pepper was a most sought after commodity for the rich there in spite they did not know where exactly Malabar coast is located.Arabs from the middle east who were good seafarers as well as clever traders- they still are-were the middle men for the transactions. Muslim Arabs not only had monopolized the trade route through Red Sea and Indian Ocean existed then, but ensured that christian Europeans do not venture out through their areas.

Among Indians although a higher level of civilization and knowledge prevailed,Hinduism forbid them for maritime adventures in high seas.Most of them being strict vegetarians,fishing and sailing was not a past time for them, one of the reasons why Indians hardly conquered out other lands even though they had the advantage of better scientific knowledge.The Dutch,French,Spanish,British all wanted to do it but it was turn of Vasco Da Gama to find a new route to India without touching the Arabs.He landed at Calicut,India in 1498.After a successful trip as a whole for his mentors, he returned to Lisbon in 1499.

Turn of Cabral..
Manuel I ,King of Portugal at that time, wanted another expedition to India soon after to consolidate what has been achieved in the first. It is assumed that Da Gama pleaded exhaustion from his trip and Cabral- Pedro Alvres Cabral is his full name-who was comparatively young,in his thirties was chosen.In 1500 Cabral with his 13 ships and 1200 men set sail for India.One of his ships was captained by none other than Bartholomew Dias of 'Cape of Good Hope' fame. The wind in Atlantic Ocean accidentally took him to present day Brazil in South America.He is credited with finding of Brazil. Leaving behind few convicted criminals who were taken with him in the armada,after few days Cabral successfully sailed back across the Atlantic to round the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut on the west coast of India He had lost few ships and captains including Bartholomew Dias in between in storm!



It was Cabral's intention to enter into a trading treaty with Zamorin, King of Calicut.He had brought much more valuable gifts for the king,not to repeat the mistake of Vasco Da Gama's which the King thought cheap.After the initial warmth the relationship between them did not go well. Arab merchants who were already there in Calicut saw the presence of Portuguese in conflict with their long term commercial interests.Brawls took place between them while the King sided with the Arabs. Cabral was forced to retreat.

Cabral moves to Kochi...
King of Kochi was not in good terms with King of Calicut. As such Cabral sailed to Kochi and befriended the King.'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'- their new relationship flourished well.Cabral could return to Lisbon successfully with his ships loaded with spices of Malabar.He could  get permission of the king to leave 30  Portuguese sailors-thankfully not convicted criminals- behind, when his ships sailed off! European domination and ultimate colonization of India for the next 447 years had kick started!!

Cabral was the first person to navigate touching four continents- Europe,America,Africa and Asia- for the first time which helped the Portuguese to colonize many countries thereafter. Cabral was welcomed back in Lisbon by the King as a hero although his expedition was sustained by loss of more men and ships.

Changing times....
It seems even now at least one of the European countries is in the hangover of the past.It is three years ago two marines employed by a  European commercial vessel fired and killed two Indian fishermen not far from the coast of Kerala, India. The vessel wanted to get away soon after the incident but could not since Indian Navy forced them to surrender and the culprits were arrested.The vessel was released later but not the marines.  They have pleaded that the firing was done by mistake and wanted the release of marines on payment of compensation etc.Thereafter they have been arguing that the the firing took place in international waters and hence to be tried in international court of law or on arbitration. They might have tried pressure and arm twisting tactics as well on India. The Indian Govt has taken to the court of law in India and wanted to try them as per law of the land.In spite a lot of pressures from that friendly country and EU,India has stood on its stand till date......And rightly so.
Photos-courtesy google

Monday, 1 June 2015

GOOD NEWS FROM SALT LAKE CITY!

Salt Lake City never had been important in my life. In fact I did not know anything about it more than it is a city somewhere in US.That was until as recent as 13th May 2015. That day all of a sudden I had to google to find out more details because a lot on my survival for the following week or so depended on it!

We had been to US for two weeks' holidays recently.We joined a group of travelers from India on a conducted tour so that we - Geetha and co; I could go around relaxed. That did not happen although not at the fault of the tour operator apparently. In the middle of the trip as we landed in an internal flight from Buffalo to Orlando I missed my only suitcase to my surprise and inconvenience although Geetha did not.Both suitcases were handed over to the lady at the counter at the same time! Here is my narration of the ordeal which I had to go through-albeit I did not show it outside then to co passengers of the group- for the next 30 hours!



                         Map showing inter connections of Delta Air in US

Niagra Falls....Baffalo airport

The hang over of viewing four or five bright rainbows across the Niagra falls against the morning sun on that day was not over when we reached the Buffalo airport in early afternoon. Not- so- good lunch we had from the local Indian restaurant- why most of Indian tourists eat only Indian food anywhere in the world is another strange matter-did not kill the enthusiasm I had in my mind to reach Orlando,Florida the land of fun,show business and theme parks in the world, prelude to our onward journey of 3 days in a large cruiser to Bahamas.

Exclusive counters of Delta Airlines at the airport were busy but seemed to be in order although the lady at the counter where we queued put up a 'I-don't-want-to be- friendly' face.We were asked to place the suitcases on the weighing scales - one after another.Boarding passes/baggage tag counter foils were issued.The flight had a stop over at Atlanta(ATL) before we catch another flight of the same airline to proceed to Orlando(MCO). In such situations esp where stop overs are there my past experience in international circuits has made me to be cautious. Always I ensure that the baggage tags placed over the suitcases by them is in order.The lady was taking some assistance it seems from the man at the next counter for the print out of baggage tags. I could not see what they had put on my suitcase as it was away form my eye sight but could see Geetha's which was perfect.

We went and sat on nearby chairs rechecking the flight details and gate to be boarded. I could notice that what they had given me was a wrong baggage counterfoil. My name was there but flight details were different. I ran to the tour coordinator and then to the counter and brought to lady's notice what they had done giving back the counter foil. She looked at it for a moment and said "Oh" and fished out another counter foil from her table top which had all the info correct and handed over to me.I had asked her politely"Is everything in place ?"'Sure, as you can see in this counterfoil" She replied without looking at my face.Yes,the counter foil was alright.My doubt was put at rest finally.

Orlando airport....from 'swap tag' to 'swap bag'..
We had a pleasant flight to Orlando. We walked to the belt where all the baggage would be coming. Baggage started coming in no time but mine was outstanding. Finally belt No. 32 came to a halt after bringing out all the baggage which the other passengers had collected. One lady came and took out 5 baggage left in  the belt but placed the same near, apparently unclaimed. Mine was still missing in that either.My fear of a loss of my baggage came to be real! It was 10.00 PM local time.I was cursing silently the unfriendly girl at the counter at Buffalo esp since I had brought this matter to her attention!

I rushed to the Lost Baggage counter which was close by. An elderly  polite lady was at the desk. She took out the counter foil from me and walked to a machine with a monitor. As soon as she scanned the counter foil the screen showed that it had reached belt 32. I was happy.  She politely asked me to go to the belt once again and check. My happiness was short lived.I could not find my suitcase again. I went to the lady and explained. She asked one of her assistants to do what I had done. She came back and reported the same. The old lady said "It seems to be a SWAP TAG case". She asked me to wait for few minutes as she had to attend to few other passengers.

Instead of waiting there, I went back again to the belt. Since her scanned machine monitor had recorded that my suitcase has reached the belt no.32, I was wondering what might have happened in between, as I walked. Five baggage still remained unclaimed near the belt but not mine. For some strange reason ,I checked tags of each and found out that one large  bag which was not mine had my tag on it! I was cursing the unfriendly lady at the counter at Buffalo once again.It seemed she screwed up cases of 5 passengers!!All others seemed to be domestic passengers from the 'look' of the baggage but poor me, that's  not the case.

The old polite lady rushed to the spot once I told her what had happened to verify herself. She said it is not a Swap Tag case anymore as she thought but a SWAP BAG case !! Yes, she taught me to differentiate between a swap bag and swap tag on that day and time!! She took me to another desk and told her "Please register a case for him" and left.It was 10.30 PM.I looked at the fellow passengers.All looked tired but patiently waiting for me to complete the formalities.

www.wheresmysuitcase.com!!
Another polite lady at the registration counter. I would repeat the question and answer session we had in verbatim which she recorded in the computer.

"What is the brand name of the suitcase?"
"American Touristor"

"What size and color?"
"Medium size and deep blue color."

"What it contains?"
"Mainly my clothes."

 "How many trousers and shirts?"
 "8 trousers including 1 jeans and 14 shirts"

"Is this all branded?"
"Yes; it is."

"Which brands?"
"Trousers are Raymonds. Shirts are mostly either Lacoste or Tommy Hilfiger."

"Is there any valuables?"
"No. But I have an I pad."

"Is there anything in particularly noticeable in the suitcase in case we scan?"
"Yes; one bottle of Indian whisky. " She smiled hearing this but asked to mention the brand name.

"What else?"
"Undergarments,socks, a pair of  Crocs floaters etc"

Once she finished with the questions, she noted down my final destination and permanent address in India.

Then I narrated to her the experience I had at Buffalo airport.I told what I had in mind then."The girl at the counter was rude and impolite and in spite I brought up my doubt of a wrong bag tag she did not take corrective steps.Now see the mess I am in. I came to your country for holidaying and just because of a wrong person at the counter I will have nightmares now".
The lady profusely apologized. She said "Sorry to hear about the lady at the counter. In fact we are trained to be polite to passengers. I apologize once again for the inconvenience." 

She answered  me that I can claim for any purchases which are absolutely essential I make till I receive the suitcase subject to rules and handed over a small folder with a file number-MCODL16305. 'This folder has all the details how to proceed further in the matter.Contact details, how to claim etc.You can also call our toll free number or visit the website to know the status of the baggage".She summed up.Then she handed over a small kit.This was a kit of basic toiletries for a man.

I asked her."Please be frank.From your experience how many days it may take to find my suit case?" "To be honest to you Sir, being a swap bag case which is rare it is difficult to locate unless the other passenger shows up". Again she apologized !

As we boarded a dedicated bus for the group to go to the hotel. my mind was active.For some reason I was cool and was planning how to face the situation!If the suitcase does not reach me within next two days we will be boarding a cruise liner which takes us to Bahamas and then after 3 days in the ship, we travel back to India via NYC!And everything I have is in that suitcase!! I had a chill in the heart but talked as casual as I could to Geetha and others.She was thanking God that it was not hers!She had a harrowing similar experience about 15 years back in a flight between Aberdeen and Rome!

My executive mind started working.Hoped for the best which is the next day but decided to prepare for the worst-I may not get back the suitcase while in US!I decided to  purchase things essential for my survival for next two days.

Good news from Salt Lake City..
As soon as we got to our hotel and checked in to the room, we got out to find a store which was open at that time. It was wee hours the  next morning. We found out one without long.Bought the only shirt of my size available.From a small store near the Indian restaurant where we had dinner on the way from airport, I had already bought few under garments, socks etc.Again while we were on tour in Disney World next day, picked up two T shirts as well.

Towards the evening I requested the tour co coordinator to give a call to the toll number given by Lost Baggage counter.The lady sounded sweet when she said"We have good news for you from Salt Lake City. Your baggage is identified there. We are finding ways to bring it to Orlando as early as possible".That was the time when I googled to learn more about that city and how far it is from Orlando. Rest was methodical. After three hours I was told that the suitcase will reach Orlando airport by night 10.30PM. They delivered it to my hotel early morning. Delta Airlines did not forget to attach a big flier on the suitcase which said-SORRY FOR THE DELAY CAUSED. I was definitely relieved but did not comfort me from the  behaviour meted out by the rude lady at the counter at Buffalo! It seemed to me that Delta is very professional in dealing with missed/delayed baggage than preventing the misses!

picture... courtesy Delta Airlines




Friday, 1 May 2015

HOW TO COMMENCE YOUR CAREER

30 March 2015. The day gave me a new experience totally, thanks to my Alma Mater Mar Athanasius College Of Engineering (MACE), Mahatma Gandhi University.I was invited to make a keynote address to out going final year Engineering students of the institute on the topic- How to commence a career after graduation in engineering.Though I had opportunities to interact in many levels with people in the corporate world, speaking to a forum of students was for the first time,that too in my own Alma Mater ushered in me a lot of nostalgic feelings. I had prepared the speech carefully to make them- who were in their early twenties- understand my own thoughts on the subject. 

I was visiting the college after 44 years! Obviously a lot of changes had taken place in the campus for good but one thing remained the same-warmth of the green,beautiful misty mountains in the background.I was a bit excited about this trip as I did not not even dream  of such an experience while in the college - I was an ordinary average student in academics!!


I have written my own views as on date on the topic, still learning more each day, for Indian engineering students in the mind but most of the points are valid for any  career aspirants any where in the world. I am reproducing the  same...

        

                                       

Respected Principal, teachers and dear budding engineers,

Good Afternoon. I thank the Principal and all concerned for giving me an opportunity to meet you all on this occasion of induction to MACE alumni. In fact I am visiting my alma mater after 44 years. I had joined in 1967 and graduated from this noble institution in 1971.

I am of the view that our Alma mater is like our own mother. We don’t give much consideration to her when we are young. We may have even complaints about her in spite she might have given us everything she has. As years go by, as we get matured by age, we understand the pains she might have taken in grooming us up. By the time we start respecting her, in most of the cases she might have gone out of this world. In my case I am lucky. I am now getting an opportunity to visit and thank openly this great institution and the teachers of mine without which I would not have reached what I have in the corporate world.

I had the opportunity to meet and closely interact with hundreds of professionals and businessmen all these years from different parts of India and different countries of the world. I have trotted widely in the world on business. I am almost 65 years old, an active professional who is reaching the fag end of the career, while you are young and about to start your career. I can assure you that the standard of teaching in our institution is one of the best available which is good enough to take you to professional heights anywhere in the world. I think what really makes MACE stand out among others is the best teacher-student relationship. In Qatar I was one among the few who organized MACE alumni Qatar chapter 26 years back. In the first year of existence itself, which we continued for many years, we could offer scholarships to financially backward students in this college, at a time when banks were not available to offer loans. My wife and I were active members of the association and enjoyed family interactions there since then.  

I am very happy to induct you to our great Alumni Association. Be a proud MACE Alumnus or MACE Alumna wherever you are in the world.

I understand that in another few weeks you all will be full-fledged engineers. Some of you may be already placed while some are not. Few may have decided to go for PG studies. But all of you, I am sure, are eager to commence your career in the right way. I think in this context I can share my own observations derived from years of exposure to the corporate world. I shall outline few points in the chronological order of importance. Please listen and try to understand:

1. What is the definition of your dream job or career?
If it is a job with excellent salary and perks, limited working hours and little or no responsibility, then you better change your definition simply because such executive jobs do not exist anywhere in the world. Your career should be your passion, your love. The more you are attached to it the more you should be able to enjoy.

2.Be selective in choosing your career.
Please try to understand different type of career options. After your graduation in your discipline whatever it is- civil, mechanical, electrical, electronics, chemical, instrumentation, IT or anything else-various types of jobs are available which will ultimately take you to different career paths. You can go for sales and marketing jobs. You can go for jobs in the construction field of projects or for industries and manufacturing. You can go for consultancy, teaching or research. You can be in the management. For more than a decade IT software or hardware sector also is an option. You can also be an entrepreneur. For all these jobs, primary requirements are different.

Personal skills, in born with you play a big role here. All of us have some talent or the other within. Some can paint, some can sing. Few are better in academics but bad in sports and games. Some can speak very well but poor in reading as a habit. Few excel in extracurricular activities but need not be the same in curriculum.  In the same way each career you opt demands certain talents without which you cannot go up the ladder. One may get an entry in any career but if a wrong choice is taken one will not go up the ladder or cannot enjoy the job as years go by.

For example unless you have traits of leadership, pl do not go for management career. Even a prime business school can only bring out and polish the talents you have within yourself. If you are an introvert it is better you choose technical jobs which can be performed as individual. For projects or industries, one’s talent in man management is essential to perform. My point is that you should choose your career to your taste and talents. First offered job need not be your career although it is advisable to join where placements are offered now and judge yourself.

3. Be positive, be ambitious,be confident.
Without ambition one cannot reach anywhere. Be ambitious. Be a dreamer. Just because others don’t, you should not stop taking steps your way. Set a target career. Find ways how to reach that. Work hard for it. I am sure you will reach your goal.

To put it in one sentence, positive people look for solutions while negative people see only obstacles when confronted by a situation or problem. Always be positive, ambitious and confident in life and work. Be reasonably patient for results.It matters!

4. Be informed.
Motto of our college is Knowledge is power. It is very true. But I may add up here- information is success. Well, definitely one has to be knowledgeable but also keep abreast of what is happening in the current world especially corporate world. Spend at least half an hour extra daily in quality articles, periodicals, books or internet related to your career, corporate India and the world in general. Watch business channels even if it is boring for you initially. Keep this habit as long as you work and beyond. You will find yourself a different person among fellow professionals as years go by.

Let us consider typical cases of two individuals present in this hall now whatever their grades be. I can assure you that one who keeps informed will outsmart the other by 100% in ten years time. Right information, in the right direction, at the right time hit the bull’s eye always. If graduates having lesser grades while in the college or those from not-so-known-institutes at times overtake those who come out from premier institutes in the career growth can be attributed to this reason. Humbly I believe I am one among them. An average graduate will overtake the topper of the university if this is practiced.

5. Opportunities are abundant.
I have seen many complaining now that there are too many engineering colleges; it is difficult for proper employment. But I differ this view. Now opportunities are also abundant. It is no more a case of poor India but a rich India where we have the monies to spend for development works. You might have read about the spectrum auction which has been recently conducted. What we have received is over one lakh crores for that!Expected revenue from such auction for licences in the near future may run to many times of that amount. Developed and technologically advanced nations have already identified India as a futuristic manufacturing hub. Multi millions worth of development projects in infrastructure, telecommunication, petroleum and natural gas, light and heavy industries, IT, space exploration etc. is in the offing. All this will transform our country to another level altogether in next two decades. Luckily for you no country can develop without deployment of engineers. All you should do is grab the right opportunity.

Pl do not restrict you to Kerala state. Comparatively new openings are very less here and business environments are not conducive for the right growth of a professional in engineering and management. In fact better you focus on states where development activities are more vigorous or commercial metros like Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi etc. You will find that only few established companies will go for a fresher like you. That’s because they think you are very raw to do an engineer’s job now and after training you may vanish and join elsewhere. Try smaller private organizations now, as you can go for known business houses later. You may compromise on salary or stipend but do not ever accept under employment. That is if you are offered a diploma holder’s job refrain from accepting that because you will be scoring negative in your career graph if you are looking finally for an executive job.

 Scenario in Gulf States
I hope all of you know how many countries are there in what we call ‘Gulf States’. 
There are 6 countries. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. Except Bahrain and Oman, all the 4 countries recruit engineers now. I would strongly recommend making a career there because of excellent opportunities while life is much more peaceful and pay packet is still better than here although the gap is bridging closer. Local Arabs like Indians especially Keralites as employees. Unfortunately they don’t look for fresh graduates. As such if you are intended to do a career there, please try there after gaining 2 to 5 year’s relevant experience.

Good openings are available for civil , electrical and mechanical graduates. For civil and electrical, go to Mumbai or other metros and work for 2-3 years in project infrastructure or  multi storied smart buildings. You can gain easily a right opening in gulf then. Mechanical graduates should work in India in petroleum or petrochemical project contracts or air conditioning package or chiller systems and then try for gulf. A job in the relevant fields with contracting companies which is not difficult in India to get is sufficient and perhaps more valuable than jobs in the Govt or public undertakings. Sales and services jobs for all these basic branches are always available for right candidates. Jobs in IT are open these days for experienced persons. It is better to avoid jobs in gulf as a fresher because you will be under employed if at all.Recommendations are absolutely not required but ensure about the  quality of recruitment agents and the firm itself.

Experience of working in the private sector in gulf states will be an advantage for you in case you want to switch over to India later.

Conclusion
My time is restricted here and as such I have to conclude. I don’t know whether time is there now to take your doubts if any ….

Let me make my last point. I had been sitting like you 44 years back in the same campus. Thank God, for the last three decades I have conducted so many interviews and recruited hundreds of personnel from lower to senior managerial levels. All a recruiter looks in a candidate for a junior engineering job is:
      1.   Acceptable technical knowledge,which you have already acquired here.
2    2. Good communication and presentation skills in English   and
      3. Lot of common sense....something not that common!
If you have these three ingredients in you, nobody can deny a bright career.
Thank you very much for a patient listening. Wish all of you the best …..
Thank you……………..