Should we find a way to better balance our people exports?

swayambhunath-temple-500

Recently, I was asked to speak at a business conclave in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. After a rather tiring day and grueling evening, I walked up to the concierge at the Soaltee and asked him what I could do to unwind, other than whiling away my time at the bar or lying in bed watching old Hindi movies.

“Well Sir, you could go to the Casino”, he said stating the obvious.

I smiled. “Now, why hadn’t I thought of that before?” I said, as I walked away in the general direction that he pointed me towards. 

Now, I am not a gambling man, but I do enjoy soaking up the excitement of the baize table and watching others make or break their fortunes in spin of a wheel or the deal of a hand(remember the ‘winner’s curse’? I always seem to ask myself in a throw back to a game theory lesson of yore…). As I walked up to the Casino doors, I was met by three uniformed guards who stared at for a moment, before smiling and waving me through, “Go on, Sir”, they said, as I started to pull out some ID as required by the establishment. I thanked them and walked through the doors and went up the stairs to reach the sanctum sanctorum.

I stopped for a moment and looked around me. To the left of me, there was a performance in progress: a number of provocatively clad young girls were taking turns to ‘groove’ to a series of Bollywood item numbers even as their audience – tables of sweat-stained, drunken men – either sat and stared at the performers on stage or tried to dance wildly at their tables in an attempt to catch their attention. To the right of me, were rows of smartly stacked slot machines, each of which whirred and jangled as customers stared fixatedly at the rapidly, but asymmetrically, spinning rows of oranges, pears, cars, bells, crowns and cherries; and straight ahead of me – covered in a light haze – were a dozen or so baccarat and roulette tables, complete with uniformed croupiers, stacks of coloured chips, whistling cards, a rattling ball set loose against the grain, food and drink laden waiters, and of course, the occasional sigh, moan and guffaw of emotion.

 What surprised me more than anything else in the half an hour that I was there was the fact that most of the customers in the establishment looked Indian – blue collar workers who lived in Kathmandu; potbellied businessmen who had travelled there from India on work; or executives like me who were passing through like I was. A conversation with the manager of the hotel, who had also stopped by for a moment confirmed what I believed, that there was an astounding amount of money that changed hands here every day, but the regulars kept on coming back…

Sharing my experience with a leading entrepreneur in Kathmandu the following morning and the fact that I had hardly seen any Indian tourists (couples and families) across Kathmandu otherwise over the past couple of days, I was surprised by his smile. ‘Yes, we do need to something about the quality of Indian tourists who visit us nowadays, and we definitely need to do find a way to get rid of these Casinos’.

…………

Though I am sure there are many who would disagree, I believe that the brain drain from India in the 1980s-1990s actually did us a world of good. For starters, it helped equip some of our finest human capital with the best learning opportunities that the world had to offer. These skill-sets were then put to the test by in an enabling environment in the global arena; and many went on to contribute to the growth and development of Silicon Valley. What is even more interesting is that many of these individuals have since returned to India and / or have actively been involved in the development of thinking, policy, and education in our country. They are also to be credited with embedding the ‘technology prowess’ and ‘entrepreneurial’ labels that many people in the West and in other parts of the world ascribe to us. These individuals have been nothing short of the finest ambassadors that the country has had.

But these people haven’t been the only flag-bearers we have had over the years: remember the migration of our Kutchi and Gujarati brethren to the Kingdoms of Arabia and East  Africa in the 19th Century where many of them helped develop and ultimately run large commercial establishments? Some of these people – those based in East Africa – moved again in the 1970-1980’s to the UK, thanks to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his counterpart in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where they initially took over corner (kirana) shops and hotels in search of work. Think back also to the movement of our Tamilian and Malayali brethren to the palmolein fields and rubber plantations of Malaysia and the construction sites of Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Singapore (we were also involved in the development of the railway systems in East  Africa).  These gentlemen played a crucial role in providing the vital manpower that these countries needed to develop and run these industries. Finally, think of the Canadian attempt to woo our celebrated Punjabi farmers in the 1980s and 1990s in an attempt to revitalize farming in the country.

Of course, these ‘migrations’ and the reasons behind them were markedly different from the one that ended up in the Valley; they are also different from the trade winds that over time has helped us (our fellow brethren!) contribute significantly to the development of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

However, despite these differences, each of these migrations have one thing in common: they have given us an identity and lent shape to the image of the ‘archetypal Indian’ in these countries; a frame of reference that we have had to work hard to change as India and Indians got to be known largely and variously as a nation of farmers, blue collar workers, traders, doctors and technocrats. (I remember travelling back from Thailand in the early 1990s and being stared at strangely by the cabin crew as I was the only Indian who didn’t appear to be carrying an entire electronics shop with him!).

Given this, I can’t help but wonder whether there is a way to better balance our people exports in so much as to purposefully shape an impression our ourselves overseas, even as we strive to find our place in the sun? Is there a way we can incentivize our companies and our people to grow in particular areas which allow us to harness / demonstrate the skills that would put us as a country in perspective? Should the development / sharing of manpower constitute a vital part of the bilateral agreements we sign as a nation and as corporate houses?

Think back from this to where we started this journey, the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. While I know there is a basic flaw in the question that I have raised, I would hate to think that everyone in the Himalayan nation should think of us as an overbearing nation of drunken gamblers who shamelessly yearn for other women when we are away from home.

Image cortesy : http://www.mytouragent.com/assets/images/swayambhunath-temple-500.jpg

This first appeared on my Times of India blog:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/entry/should-we-find-a-way-to-better-balance-our-people-exports

Dubai and lessons in organizational building

As the plane took its last lazy swoop towards the runway I looked out of the window again. Nothing much had changed. All we had seen over the past 15 minutes was mounds of sand dotted with the odd shrub and divided by a long, straight, often winding highway. And then, before I could look again, we had landed, and everything had changed.

The first time I visited Dubai was close to a decade and half ago. Even then, the contrast between the approach to Dubai and the almost near perfect man-made city that you walked into as you stepped out of the aerodrome took your breath away. Earlier this week, I felt the same feeling again. Perhaps, with greater gusto since I was returning to the desert city after a year – a time period during which, as those in the know would tell you, much would have changed in Dubai – and I had a colleague with me who have never visited the emirate. I was therefore quick to take on the dual tasks of tour guide and mentor.

This time, as the plane rolled on towards its parking bay, I could see my colleague staring out at the tapeworm shaped terminal fast approaching, which everyone had told him so much about. A quick forty minutes later we had finished all our entry formalities and we walked into the mid-day sun.

“Hmm…37 degrees? This feels a bit like Ahmedabad in summer…” my colleague opined as he fixed his collar and cast his eyes around him in clear appreciation.

I smiled knowingly. He hadn’t seen nothing yet.

As we rode toward, and then, down Sheikh Zayed road, I kept pointing out things to the right and left of the road: that is the Dubai golf course; this is the Wafi Mall, one of the first malls in Dubai, which once boasted of Asha’s – Asha Bhonsle’s signature restaurant; that is the Hyatt, once one of the most happening hotels in Dubai – where, incidentally, I also got sea-food allergy; that is the Dubai creek and those sleepy boats are better known as Abras; this is evidently the famed Armani Hotel where the world’s first air-conditioned beach is supposed to come up; that is Emirates Towers, and beside it, the DIFC – home to some of the world’s leading financial institutions; no prizes for guessing that that is the Burj Dubai (nee Khalifa), the tallest tower in the world; there you see the Emirates Mall, with the world’s first indoor ski slope; and to the right behind all these houses, you see the Burj Al Arab….

As you might have guessed, I have spent a fair amount of time in Dubai. And, I have been and continue to be in considerable awe of what one of India’s leading trade partners has achieved over the past four decades.

My colleague looked at me in askance.

“What Dubai has achieved is far beyond the glistening structures around you”, I went on to explain even as I told him about the opportunity to purchase your own little part of the World, the living facilities at the Palm, the underwater attractions of Atlantis, the cultural richness of Madinat Jumeriah, and more importantly how Dubai has evolved from a mish-mash of Bedouin cultures into a global economic hub.

“Besides, what Dubai has been able to do repeatedly is to cock-a-snook at all their naysayers who have time and again said Dubai is nothing more than a bubble that is waiting to burst and the ideas put forward by the rulers, impossible to implement. Dubai has just responded through deed and action; by using their considerable resources to get the best human capital from around the world to make the impossible possible. This is a country that truly exemplifies the BHAG!” I ended with an enthusiastic reference to the Big Hairy Audacious Goals theory laid out by global management gurus Collins and Porras in their 1994 runaway success, ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’*.

Yes, I do sincerely believe that Dubai can teach you many lessons in organization (and individual?) building despite being a relatively small island nation. And while there have no doubt been issues that the country has faced in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, projects that have been criticized or done better than others, and certain public policies that can be seem to be discriminatory to our brethren from the subcontinent, there is much to be gleaned if you are ready to keep an open mind and learn from all around you. The daring to dream; to challenge and when required, to break convention; to follow through on your vision with the right resources and the finest human capital; the need to counter all your naysayers with deed and action; and the resolve to see things through to the very end, despite the odd failure or hiccup in the road. Dubai emphatically ticks all of these boxes.

As we walked out of the much talked about Iftar party at Downtown Dubai later that evening and watched a yet to be publicly launched Lamborghini glide past us, I turned around to see the shimmering façade of Burj Khalifa in the night sky behind us once again and could have sworn that I saw the lights wink in approval.

 

Credits:

*Built to last: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Hairy_Audacious_Goal

Sheikh Zayed Road recent: www.guide2dubai.com

Burj Al Arab: http://www.Tripadvisor.com

Burj Khalifa - www.newsilike.in

The Palm – www.mostbeautifulplacesintheworld.org

 

This piece first appeared on my Times of India blog:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/entry/dubai-and-lessons-in-organization-building

Why should we politicize every human tragedy?

Indiatoday.indiatoday.in

The horrendous mid-day meal tragedy has brought to the fore numerous questions around access, affordability, morality and quality control. After all, however laudable the intention, and in this case, it truly is – providing nutritious meals as an incentive to children from economically challenged families to spend time in school – questionable execution-led incidents such as the one in Bihar undermine the very purpose of the scheme. Today we have hundreds of parents – and their children – asking whether or not it is safe to consume the food that is handed out in schools, especially, in the light of the numerous reports from across the country of similar instances where food of inferior or questionable quality (peppered with maggots, animal excreta or stones) or prepared in extremely unhygienic circumstances (cooking vessels stored in toilets) is served to children in the name of a nutritious meal.

The tragedy however also raised pertinent questions around another fundamental issue that seems to be plaguing us as a nation: why do we need to politicize each and every human tragedy in our country? Why is it important to dart around looking for conspiracy theories the moment something happens or to find ways to apportion the blame? Why should sections of the media use every such opportunity to gain TRPs by sensationalizing every graphic detail of the tragedy at prime time? Why should each human tragedy reveal the rapid degradation of human values in many of our fellow countrymen who do not think twice about misusing such occasions to further their own cause? What will it take for all of us to put our own interests behind us, come together to help those who need it, even as we genuinely spare a moment for those who are grieving?

Even if one considers random selection of incidents in the recent past –the Guwahati molestation, the dastardly Nirbhaya gang rape (and countless others…across the country), the Mumbra housing collapse, the disastrous floods of Kedarnath, the terrorist attack in Bodhgaya, the mid-day meal related tragedies in Chhapra and Madhubani or yesterday’s Iron and Folic acid tablets scare in Solapur – it is clear that we are having to confront human tragedies of varying magnitude almost every month. What is equally clear is that we are perhaps ill prepared to handle the diversity of the crisis hitting us and must therefore – despite everyone’s (best?) efforts – steel ourselves to confront more such incidents going ahead.

In such a scenario, do we really need each and every tragedy to dwindle into a political blame game? I think not. People across the nation were shocked and appalled at the images of two political factions nearly being drawn into fisticuffs while trying to woo people to board their busses in Uttarakhand recently. We were equally, if not more appalled at audacity of the private helicopter operators trying to fleece the families of hapless victims to fly their near and dear ones out of the disaster area. Have the latter been brought to book?

Do we really need either of these incidents – or variations of the same – every time we are confronted with a human disaster or do we need more silent crusaders like the Indian Army, whose personnel, toiled selflessly to rescue people in conditions that threatened both life and limb at every moment for the rescuers as much as those being rescued? Yet, despite their heroic efforts, I have been told that the Indian Army was referred to as ‘people who only knew what to do and did what they did because they were told what to do by us’ in a debate on national television. One particular pilot was even ridiculously asked whether he had reservations about rescuing people from a different community. Don’t such statements and actions undermine the very human tragedy that we are keen to deliberate on and address as a nation?

Picture courtesy:
Uttarkhand video: Youtube
Mid-day meal image: indiatoday.indiatoday.in

This blog post first appeared on my Times of India blog: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/entry/why-should-we-politicize-every-human-tragedy

Can we ask for a little more sensitivity please?

If you were asked, “What do X-men actor Jim Byrnes, glamour model and former Lady McCartney, Heather Mills, Everest summiteer, Tom Whittaker, Jazz diva, Ella Fitzgerald, champion surfer, Bethany Hamilton and Italian ace racing car driver, Alex Zanardi have in common?” I am sure that few of you would have guessed that they all have had to learn to live life after amputation. But living with a prosthetic limb/s isn’t all they have / had in common; what they also have / had is that none of them let the physical and emotional scars of losing a limb stop them from trying to reach, and in most cases surpass, the then pinnacle of their respective careers.

So what is it that gave them the strength to carry on? To continue to fight towards realizing the dreams they believed in? Their overwhelming, almost stubborn, will to live, survive and thrive in the face of devastating adversity? Their desire to live life to the fullest, given the realization that life is so short, so fragile, and yet, so worth living? A hugely protective and supportive family? A social system that tries not to differentiate between people with disabilities and those without and even encourages then to join the mainstream? All of the above? Probably, all this and much more….

These and several other thoughts crossed my mind on Friday morning as I read about the harrowing ordeal that the 37-year old marketing executive, Suranjana Ghosh Aikara had to undergo at Mumbai airport where she was asked to take off her prosthetic limb and run it through the scanner before she proceeded through security check.

After all, wasn’t I the one who several years ago advised a fellow passenger at London’s Heathrow Airport that it would perhaps be advisable to hereon walk into the airport in my bathing trunks and with all my clothes filled in a transparent polythene bag, given the intensity and thoroughness of the scrutiny checks? Thankfully, both time and technology have intervened at most global airports and the frequency of intrusive, even embarrassing physical pat-downs and security checks are few and far between.

However, despite my often punishing travel schedule – to countries developed, developing and somewhat underdeveloped – never have I seen someone being forced to undergo the humiliation of having to undress and pass a prosthetic limb through the scanner before s/he is allowed to board a flight.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as staunch a supporter as you can possibly find of all security measures and fully believe that the men and women in khaki perform a crucial duty; but this duty needs to be performed with greater awareness, with greater respect, and with sensitivity towards those who are being subjected to the checks. Efficiency otherwise quickly dwindles into a brazen show of power, especially when accompanied with demeaning comments like “Aise nahi karte toh kaisa pata chalta ki aap terrorist nahi hai?” (If we hadn’t put you through this, how would we have known that you are not a terrorist?) despite the victim showing the officials a medical certificate which clearly explained the disability.

In a country that displays (and periodically updates?) a list of dignitaries and people who are allowed to walk through security checks without being frisked at airports, where prominent businessmen choose to walk into the city’s hotels without going through the scrutiny scanner, and most security personnel don’t appear to know what they are looking for when they peer under your car or stare into your bonnet, this seems a bit excessive and shortsighted.

What is all the more disturbing is the sidebar editorial comment in a leading national daily that reported this story: the Bureau of Aviation Security currently doesn’t have specific guidelines for dealing with passengers with prosthetic limbs – “Shoes, clothing items and other accessories that contain metal will alarm the metal detector and as a result the screener will require you to undergo further checks which may include pat down frisking”. Should dealing with medical conditions be left to chance, limited awareness or to the subjective judgment of the officials on duty? Definitely not.

As we were all waiting for a meeting to start during the day, a somewhat disgusted elderly gentleman asked in reaction to comments about the news item, “What, will they expect me to take off my pacemaker and my knee replacement joint and run them through the scanner before I am allowed to board my flight next time?” God forbid!

Photo courtesy: change.org

Bethany Hamilton video: youtube.com 

This first appeared on my Times of India blog: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/entry/can-we-ask-for-a-little-more-sensitivity-please1

“To sleep or not to sleep…

sleep

…that is the question”, I asked my somewhat bewildered friends rather emphatically one evening after dinner a couple of years ago. Fresh from a programme that laboured the merits of consensus building in decision making, I was keen not to pass up on a single opportunity of putting theory into practice even if it was matter of reflecting on the Hamletian dilemma. Besides, these were friends who I had known for the past twenty five years; friends, who had seen me mature, grey, grow (around the midriff that is) and prosper in life. These were also friends who had popped up quite unexpectedly in different cities and countries whenever there was a need. So, to my mind there was really no need for them to feel embarrassed if I asked them such a question, or was there?

Looking at their slightly quizzical faces, I asked my question again to the immense chagrin of my better half, “when you are feeling seriously exhausted at a dinner – in your own home – in the company of friends, is it worse to yawn away to glory, glaze over and doze off even as your guests are trying to build on an argument or, excusing yourself after telling them you are terribly sleepy and going off to bed?” For once, they both hemmed and hawed, while my wife shared, “to my mind, both are unacceptable”.

“Well” I continued “do you remember the last time we were at dinner at the Renaissance and I stepped away for half an hour or so in between the main course and dessert, that made you question whether I had left my wallet at home?”

“Yy..yes..” one said tentatively, “Well, I was being honest, I hadn’t forgotten my wallet, it’s just that I was feeling so sleepy, I needed to step out and get some fresh air. When that didn’t work, I fell asleep on the couch in the lobby and only stepped back into the restaurant after I had woken up somewhat refreshed.”

My wife’s face was ashen.

Quite unaffected by the embarrassed glances exchanged between the couple before me, and the discomfort of my better half, I continued “this is not the only time; remember my telling you about the fact that I would regularly lie down and fall asleep while studying on the parapet of my university wall – despite our being on the second floor – or about the time when I fell asleep at the dining table at the posh restaurant in Zurich when I had stepped out to have dinner with my classmates? Or when I kept Robin and Sucharita waiting for me inexplicably in the UK long into the night, because I had decided to take forty winks in the afternoon sun and only woke up at one in the morning? And how about the time I fell asleep while sitting at the head table at the employee town hall a couple of years ago? Even stepping up from the table and moving to the back of the hall didn’t help, I fell asleep leaning against a pillar!”

My friends’ faces were ashen.

“I can’t help it”, I continued trying to explain myself, “when my body decides that I need to sleep, I need to sleep, and if I try and push things a bit too much, it decides to claim what it believes is its right – at its own pace and at its own place – with scant regard for what I may be doing at the time.”

“Don’t I know that…”, I thought I heard my wife mutter under her breath.

“The ‘dharma sankat’ in my mind is what is less becoming when you are in the company of friends, neighbours, family or my in-laws: to tell them that I am sleepy and going off to sleep at the end of a conversation or not to tell them how I am feeling, and then after a while of pinching myself, drinking water, pulling my ears, rubbing my eyes, suppressing a yawn and stepping out for air or even standing up, falling asleep much like a horse – standing up – or leaning against the closest wall and starting to snore to the great embarrassment of yours truly and everyone else around me?”

It was clear that my friends had never been put in this position before, but they tried to weigh in – at cross purposes – starting off almost in unison…

“If you need to sleep, you must…”

“Well, it is terribly rude. Have you tried…”

After a good half an hour of this rather uncomfortable conversation, we finally arrived at an agreement that if I did indeed feel this way, and if I were in the company of friends, then I should indeed do what was required – sleep, since it really didn’t make sense in punishing myself for something I had little or no control over.

Satisfied that I had indeed made my point, I yawned and stood up: “now, if you will excuse me, I really am feeling tired. Thank you for coming. Good night!” and promptly went off to bed.

My friends have rarely stayed for dinner since.

Picture courtesy: http://www.uber-facts.com

This piece first appeared on my Times of India blog: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/entry/to-sleep-or-not-to-sleep

Take a break from life.

Three years ago my wife and I took a decision: rather than working ourselves into the ground – literally and metaphorically – and spending all our money on healthcare, we would use the same money twice, even three times a year, to go on a holiday. I don’t know if it had something to do with the loss of both my parents in close succession shortly before that, but the fact is life suddenly appeared to have become very short; and all of us, despite our heroic personal stoicism, our professional standing, and our belief that nothing could happen to us, very frail.

Whatever the reason, the idea of spending our hard earned money a couple of times a year on ourselves – sunbathing on the beaches of Goa, spending hours (and even days) at the Louvre, taking in the breathtaking views of the Scottish Highlands and the Swiss Alps, eating breakfast with the Orangutan in Singapore, parasailing at Phuket beach, dune bashing in Dubai, coasting down Sunset Boulevard and swimming with the fish off Havelock Island in the Andaman’s or off Victoria Island in the Seychelles – seemed infinitesimally more attractive than gifting it all away on hospitals, doctors and medical expenses. There was of course one major hurdle that stood in the way of making this happen – making ourselves believe that our workplaces could indeed weather our absence and that the world wouldn’t come tumbling down in pure humpty-dumpty fashion just because we had taken a decision to step off life’s freeway.  (Trust me, this was a much bigger challenge than getting the office to agree and getting clients, colleagues and friends to believe that the world could and would carry on in your absence).

 

 

 

An associated challenge – one which many find genuinely hard – was to give up the laptop, blackberry, iPhone, iMac, emails, text messages and all other forms of professional screens and social media during this period. That meant forsaking the temptation to reach for one of these devices every time it blinked, buzzed, yelped and hummed.

Finally, it meant unconditionally trusting your colleagues to do what is right in your absence, without calling you, texting you, emailing you or squandering everything that you had put together brick by brick over the years. (And assuring your clients / customers that they would indeed be well looked after in your absence).

Might I say the results are marvelous?! The office manages extremely well without my officious presence, my colleagues keep their heads – and that of our clients and customers – well above water, and I get to enjoy a hugely satisfying holiday with my family without the myriad worries, distractions, professional challenges, achievements and social pressures that all of us are subjected to in our daily lives.

We recently returned from one such holiday in the UK where we did everything that we had set our hearts and minds to do, without even once worrying about work and how the world was carrying on without us, and have come back significantly more composed – and of course, lighter of pocket – than when we set out on our journey.

The beauty is, a significant part of the holiday was ‘reserved’ for enjoying life’s simple pleasures – a walk down memory lane; meeting people one had grown up with but hadn’t stayed in touch with or met in decades; walking aimlessly down a meadow, a promenade or a pier; taking in the riches of some of the world’s finest museums; hanging out at institutions of higher learning; watching a play or strolling through flower filled garden; and most of all laughing ourselves silly at the simplest of things! And to the chagrin of many fellow travellers, we didn’t rush around to 12 countries in 16-days and try and bum a free stay of some long lost friend!

While this does seem a daunting task to begin with, trust me it’s worth it. Take an occasional break from life. Have a Kit-Kat!

Read this post and my other posts also on my Times of India blog: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/

Confessions of a ‘shopaphobe’ husband

I must admit that I haven’t a clue what the antonym of shopaholic is. I tried looking up the word or a similar expression on Google and in the dictionary, but couldn’t find anything even remotely suitable. And to be honest, while ‘shopaphobe’ comes close to capturing what I intend to say and mean, it’s not quite there. You see, it’s not that I have a fear of shopping. It’s just that I find it a complete and utter waste of time.

And so, perhaps you will understand why I say that my wife and I have continued to approach the onerous task of shopping in completely different ways ever since we were married and today, have only barely reached a satisfactory compromise. It’s not that she’s a shopaholic or falls back on retail therapy at each and every opportunity. In fact, in many ways, she’s quite the opposite. Over the past decade and a half, I have often urged her to buy things that I feel are more becoming of her or indulge in a flight of fancy. Most of the time, these are things that cost a tad short of an arm and a leg; but then, I do believe these things complement her, and so…

Let me explain. To me, shopping is much like one of those painful necessities that each one of us would love to do without, but can’t really do: much like taking your vaccination shots as a child, studying differential calculus in high-school when you have no intention of becoming an engineer, or the need to take a housing loan when you want to buy the apartment that’s just beyond your means. And, so, I approach this task with the clinical precision of a surgeon or a lawyer: I carefully draw up a list that identifies what I need, the quantities I need, the fabric I need, the colours/stripes I need, the shop/s that I need to visit, and the order in which I need to visit them. Then I go about the task quickly and efficiently. What helps, is knowing very clearly what I do not want to buy.

Compare this to my wife, who tends to approach things far more organically – despite her taking to lists and bringing a certain degree of planning into her shopping forays ever since we were married. But then, her plans are more lateral than linear and involve her going to multiple outlets to identify that ‘one perfect piece’ that is embedded in her mind. Naturally, she achieves this in much the same time that I would have finished the entire onerous outing!

The unstable equilibrium that we have reached has been facilitated – no, not by the magical pieces of plastic that we all carry in our wallets nowadays – but by the fact that she has come to appreciate and accept my deep disregard for this form of entertainment and mode of spending quality time together. She knows that, I would much rather spend time with her on the beach, walking through the hills, enjoying a lovely meal at a fine-dining restaurant, watching a play or musical performance or visiting friends of our choice.

And in doing so, she is happy to take care of most leisurely shopping experiences on her own or accompanied by our sprightly 12-year old daughter. She knows that I will look forward to seeing the fruits of her labour and I will not hesitate to share my candid feedback and appreciation of her choice -  much better than being accompanied by an ill-tempered man who is bored out of his mind and does not hesitate to show it, isn’t it?!

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and there are occasions, like this weekend, when we spent most of our time travelling from one retail store to another as we collected things for our forthcoming holiday. But then, this trip was preceded by careful planning and had a series of specific metrics built in along the way. Even then, at the end of a two-hour process of sifting through, trying out and shortlisting the finest cotton-wear, I was – try as I might – at my intolerant best:

“Can you please consider setting up a series of stools for spouses such as me who come shopping with their better halves?” I asked the owner of the store even as I paid for a couple of dresses beyond what my wife was keen to buy.

I rest my case.

 

Pictures courtesy:

www.anuleoprincess.blogspot.com

www.clipartof.com

 This article first appeared on my Times of India blog: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/time-travellers-log/