Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 - The beginning of a new chapter

My writing pattern is becoming more and more predictable it seems - clearly I only write to wish people a happy new year and then I go quiet. 
I hope 2016 will be different. In fact 2016 has to be different. It has begun on such a different note that it will be a shame if it doesn't turn out to be different. So in 2016 I have decided to break the routine of almost past 10 years and take a plunge to attend to a task that I had neglected for long. 
I have decided to do an MBA. Not just any MBA but a very exotic MBA from a boutique school in a picturesque location. IMD Business School in Lausanne Switzerland. 
The transition from working for a multi-billion dollar Oil major to becoming a student has not been without its share of inconveniences but after two weeks in the program Shikha and I are still smiling so we are coping fine. 
I hope the year will bring all that we expect it to bring or at least it will bring something worth cherishing. We will see!
For the time being a quick recap on what 2015 gave us - honestly the only thing I can remember is the rapid tumble in oil prices. Many of you might not even have noticed this free-fall but for us whose daily meals are correlated to oil prices, this area is always of interest. 
For me it was vindication of sorts when Arvind Kejriwal came back to power as CM of Delhi. I have always given my whole-hearted supported to Arvind Kejriwal often to the dismay of my well meaning and intelligent friends. Some of them have gone as far as questioning what am I smoking and only very few have respected my opinion on this matter. 
Cricket was very lacklustre and I can hardly remember a moment of significance. 
Donald Trump's rapid rise as the Republican front-runner is both entertaining and worrisome. But I wouldnt bother myself too much with that for the moment. 
For us as a family 2015 was a great year as we met many friends and relatives who passed by Singapore and spent valuable time with us.
All in all for us it was a great year and we have high expectations from 2016. 
I hope 2015 was a great year in your life too and I hope 2016 turns out to be even better. 
Wishing you a very happy 2016. 

And if any of you is curious to know what is going on with my MBA then you are very welcome to follow my posts at the IMD blog website.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Welcome 2015

I am a new year person. I believe that new year is not just any arbitrary date but indeed an opportunity to resolve new and change the way one lives. You can tell that by looking at the date for the previous blog. New year 2015 is helping me break my long silence here.

So what was 2014 like? A disaster for the airline industry of course(although I read somewhere that apart from the 4 major crashes the overall safety standard in the airline actually went up in 2014 - what does that nonsense even mean?). Insane from a geopolitical perspective as well - Russia, ISIS, Pakistan.
But for India it was landmark year. With Modi's never-seen-before quality of ascension to the top elected post in India, the politics has changed. For a die-hard AAP supporter like me it wasnt particularly a great news but if you followed some or all of my posts on facebook you could imagine biting the bullet wasnt so hard for me. I was for India first and party later. In AAP i found a vehicle that i thought could replicate what Joko Widada had achieved in Indonesia. Although Jokowi (as he is popularly known) is yet to deliver concrete progress at the country level, he has made a significant impact in Jakarta and is a very good bet for the country.
In any case the 2014 Lok Sabha elections have changed the face of Indian politics for at least the near future.
In sports Germans very deservedly lifted the football cup and the great Indian captain bid adieu to a task that most Indians believed he was the most suited for.
All in all there was limited good news in 2014, more disasters but I hope you personally are better off at the end of it.

What does 2015 hold for us? Hopefully India wins the world cup again. Hopefully Modi will be able to able to deliver on some if not all of his promises. Hopefully the airline industry will have a much better record and hopefully the geopolitics will stabilise. Hopefully ISIS will recede and will be brought to justice.

I plan to travel more and read more. I plan to find a new interest and hopefully listen to all of Bob Dylan songs - Feel free to recommend.

Hopefully you will be successful in achieving whatever targets you have set for yourself.

I wish you a very happy new year.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Welcome 2014

Wish you a very happy new year once again. It is remarkable how fast time is flying. The last time I remember a year lasted a year was in 2006. This was when I graduated from University and started working and after that wishing New Year seems like a weekly thing. 
So 2013 - in a way for the World a less tumultuous year than the one's preceding it - uprisings of 2011, 2012; World Cups of 2010, 2011; Coming to power of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012; financial crisis of 2008, 2009 and beyond - but still full of its own excitements at least for India and me. 

The rise of the AAP was a phenomenon unlike any India has seen in the last few decades. Yes there was the government of JD which dethroned Congress briefly, yes there was the laughable musical chair of Prime Ministers in 1997-1998, yes there was the rise of Kalam to the Presidency of India but a mass revolution coming from the very grassroots of India without a drop of blood being shed has to be more remarkable than any of the above events in the history of Indian politics or India for that matter. 

For me personally it was a refreshing year. I moved into a new job, moved to a new country and got married. Traveled to new countries - Australia and New Zealand and came this close to going to Korea and Thailand but that is for another year I suppose. All in all a good year. Of course there were missed opportunities; things I could have done better, different; friends I could have kept, people I could have spent more time with but fortunately not all is lost and nothing that was missed in 2013 is forever – so thank god for that. A gentle reminder though that this might not always be the case. 

Getting married was by far the most exciting thing this year. And to be very honest in spite of my dislike for the Indian wedding traditions and the fanfare I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed my wedding. I went to my native town after 7 years and met people I had not seen in decades. It almost felt like homecoming after living like a nomad for the last 7 years. The jet-setting around the World and the exposure to so many new cultures, countries and people had somewhere forced my “can be taken for granted” roots into a backseat. Meeting my family made me feel alive again. People have  changed – kid brothers and sisters have grown up, uncles and aunts have gotten that wee bit grey in their hair, some are no longer around but still in their company something felt eternally standstill. Memories of my childhood have been preserved in the common space that spans their and my mind – and soul. It is worthwhile mentioning that a core part of my family (with my great-grandfather as the patriarch) has lived in the same city for over 100 years and in the same house(s) for about 7 decades so there is a lot lingering between those walls. There are many secret hideouts that we frequented as kids and that have remained intact in the intervening years. All this only magnifies the emotion of separation and homecoming – something in those house(s) waits for me – unchanged. 

So what does 2014 has in store for us – quite a bit I suspect. Not everything that we expect but nonetheless new and exciting propositions God or someone has in store for us. The problem with having lived for close to 3 decades is that one cannot be sweet-talked into believing that all will be rosy and so it won’t be in 2014 but whatever it will be will present a chance to us to be humble in success, courageous in failures, enduring in tragedies, grateful in blessings, inspired by the winners, compassionate to losers, a little more kind, a little more helpful, a little more ambitious, a little more relaxed and above all a little more human. 

Best wishes!  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I hate Starbucks & What's in a name?

I sometimes stammer. Before you go any further let me clarify this is not a self-pity post (and I will tell you why), in fact it is a funny one. 
As I said - I sometimes stammer. I first discovered this when in class 2nd my class teacher asked 7 or 8 of us to audition for the post of  house captain (imagine cute 7 yr old captains). Initial screening process was good grades and a bit of teacher's discretion and then finally this test. The first bits I comfortably scaled and in the last one we were to sound out commands. You know shouting stuff like "attention school, stand at ease, about turn". It was the "A" in attention that stumped me. I had no idea till then that I stammered and so I went straight for one of the toughest sounds as per phonetics and while opening the mouth was not tough it was producing that sound of A that proved merciless. I dont know for how long my mouth remained open but surely long enough for one teacher to remark, "what happenend do you want food?". It was embarassing but I learned two things that day - 1) I stammer and 2) I must stay away from "A". What worried me was that I didn't know what else to stay away from (as it would turn out later it was Killer K... sharp readers amongst you can make the connection and realise why it was killer).  Apart from that minor glitch the auditions went well and I became the captain (although years later I would indeed lose my captaincy and because of the same reason).
Another interesting incident was during the time Abhay Kuruvilla (a short lived next-big cricket star story in Indian cricket) who was famous for his dangerous bowling and hitting sixes standing at half pitch, joined the team. My dad walked in during one of the matches and asked me who is bowling. It was my nemesis AK bowling his last ball of the over. I conveniently ignored the question hoping nothing dramatic would happen in the last ball which would make my dad repeat his question. My tactic was for the bowler to change so I could tell another name. I dont remember how it went but probably not well enough which is why I remember the incident to this day. Anyways there were many funny incidents such as these and most of them related to my name. The K in Kunal has always troubled me. I can still recall the feeling of horror when a new teacher entered the class and asked us to introduce ourselves in sequence. My heartbeat would go up dramatically as my turn approached and  in those few minutes I would always wish something would intervene -  things like a peon would call the teacher out to meet the principle, or bell would ring or whatever. I was almost always absent on the first day of the new school session because teachers invariably asked you to stand-up and introduce yourself. 
In class Xth I remember I scored 92 marks in English (highest in the school) and when the new English teacher arrived in class XIth she started by asking who were the top performers in English and she would like them to be nominees for Vice-Captainship. I did not raise my hand for the fear of having to introduce myself (for god's sake what was I thinking - I was the top scorer and of course the classmates later blurted out my name). So she said - who is Kunal and sheepishly I stood up (but more confident in my mind because the name-telling was out of the way). She said why I did not raise my hand earlier and then went on to add it is ok if I want to focus on studies and didn't wish to be a vice-captain. "Of course I wanted to be captain", I wanted to say but before I could intervene she moved on with the names of those who had volunteered and this time stammering did cost me my vice-captaincy. (For those who are feeling bad - I did become the house captain in class XIIth. So it was alright) 
My stammer also explains why when I missed classes I called my friends whose names started with V and for sure avoided those with A (sorry folks - nothing personal only tactical). At one point saying a simple "Hello" to receive phone calls became a herculean task and I resorted to receiving calls with "Yes".  
There were extended periods when I wouldn't stammer at all and those were mostly preceded by successes and achievements and I realized confidence had a large role to play in my stammering or not stammering. For instance when I moved to Ahmedabad in 1994 and joined a School St.Anns, I did pretty well in studies and created some sort of impression on the teachers who would want me to participate more broadly than in just academics and I was nominated to compete in a Debate competition in the junior category (class 6th to 8th ). It was a bit unfair because apart from me and one another girl who were class 6th students all others were class 8th students (of course the houses wanted to maximise their winning chances). But lo and behold yours truly speaking in his first ever competitive debate competition floored the opponents and emerged victorious. So you see confidence was important. And while I knew this I could do very little to leverage that fact. 
Ok so for those who are wondering why you shouldn't pity me - during my college days I went on to become a regular (not a successful) debater and participated in many competitions in and outside college and never stammered for once on the stage. I managed to become the President of the debating club at IIT Delhi, hosted many functions/events at IIT Delhi (including one where I introduced Prof. Yashpal Sharma), was chosen as one of the three students to ask a question to Wen Jia Bao (Chinese Premiere) on his visit to the campus and was one of the youngest (ever? at 20) to speak at the Annual National Conference of CII being on the same panel as Omar Abdullah and Vikram Chandra. And over the last 6 years the only consistent positive feedback (unfortunately) during appraisals has been - strong communication skills. So you see I am doing alright. 

Anyways moving on. My eternal love-hate relationship with my name has continued to this day. I liked my name because for a very long time I never met another Kunal in schools which made me feel a bit exclusive and when suddenly at IIT I was bombarded with name-sakes  I found solace in the explanation that most Kunal's are intelligent and end up in a place like this. But the K in the beginning has remained my Achilles heel to this day particularly in external meetings and that too in international settings. At least in India if I manage to fumble out my name people pick it up in one go as it is a familiar name but internationally they dig your grave twice or thrice sometimes by using a single word -"pardon". i have to say in the last several years though stammering has been least of my concerns - I have grown up, am a bit more relaxed and mature etc. 
But this blissful existence has recently been rudely invaded by starbucks and thats the motivation behind the blog. I am a big coffee drinker and so when I discovered Starbucks during my current assignment in Netherlands I was extremely pleased-  in the beginning. So what's wrong with starbucks. The buggers take your order on a paper cup by ticking items on a checklist and then ask - Yes! "your name".  Every time they do that I want to respond with two words... I mean I can understand embarrassing myself in a third-party meeting for the sake of earning a bread but why the hell should I go through the ordeal for a over-priced, unhealthy cup of coffee. To make it worse they always miss it the first time. 

And you can tell Shakespeare did not stammer - otherwise he wouldn't have naively said "What's in a name?"     

Monday, January 21, 2013



Climb is steep and paths are long,
But I cannot rest I must go on
For even in this dark , when I cannot see
There is someone who watches me

He thinks I am mighty and strong
He thinks I will set right all wrong
He thinks I work hard and try
To create a world for him to fly

Oh no sir! He is not my son
I don’t know this little one
But everyday when my car goes by
He waves at me and says goodbye

How can I break his faith and trust
And quit my work in utter disgust
I know I am lost and have no clue
But to that little waving hand I must stay true

I must get up and get on my feet
For that little boy on the street
Who runs to the school in bliss and glee
So one day he can be like me

Kunal Chandra  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nigeria - Thank You

I have recently completed my 2+ year assignment in Nigeria. Many of my friends congratulate me on moving out of Nigeria and welcome me to what they think is a more desirable world - Europe. I politely reciprocate the gesture but through this page which I think belongs to me (google doesn't think so by the way) I want to admit that I miss leaving Nigeria. It was a comfortable life as a Shell expat. Nice house, cars, travel services etc did have their charm and I hate to say that I had begun to enjoy it. But more importantly I miss the people. I have made some great friends on the island who gave me so many opportunities to develop myself and become a better human being while at the same time giving me a feeling as if I was contributing to their efforts.
I got a chance to work with local school students and college graduates on things like preparing for exams, writing CVs, preparing for interviews etc and it was a very welcome change from an Indian rat-race life that I have been a part of for quite sometime now. It gave me a chance to express myself in a way I had never done before. I recall an incident where my colleague Eju took me to speak to a class of 150 Secondary school students who were preparing for their board exams. My other collegues started taking the students through things like how to keep time in exam, how to prepare a night before etc etc and as per the script I was supposed to talk on the same lines. But when my turn came I felt as if I was having a moment of inspiration. I had not prepared any of this but I started taking them through a ritual which was coming to me as I was talking. I asked them close their eyes and visualize things and say things out loud - it almost looked like a rehearsed HR exercise except that i couldn't recall having done it anytime before.
I made them open their heart to the room. Shout out loud things which I thought were suppressed in their minds. The atmosphere almost felt divine and after a while the room was completely silent except for my own voice which I felt I was listening to as a third person. And at some point I just ended my discourse. I dont remember with what words, i dont remember anything I had said. I felt I was under a spell which was broken by a thunderous applause in the room and as I turned around to look at the teachers and my other collegues who were sitting behind me I was almost in tears. These people had given me a chance to express what was probably suppressed in me for a long time. The students were feeling grateful to me for having taken them through a moment of cleansing what they did not realise was that if there was one person who was feeling more pure in that room then that was me. That experience forever changed the way I looked at life. I went back several times and did several such sessions with many other schools but by my friend's acoount (Eju) none of them were half as transforming as the first one which I had conducted without any preparation or script.
I once went to a local Church for the dedication of one of our collegue's daughter. I was the only non-Nigerian in that Church and as expected I was getting some glares. It wasn't as if people had not seen foreigners but because of security situation etc not many had ventured into the town before and certainly not in churches. So people felt a bit odd seeing me in a place like this. Now I have never attended any services in Church before and never prayed with people in the way they do in Church. But that day I did and I felt great. Cleansed again! When I was leaving an elderly woman gestured me to come to her and gently rubbed her palms on my head and face while saying a few words which I did not understand but the emotions were very familiar and the gesture too - something my grandmother did everytime I met her. Oh what an incredibly small world this is.
By far the most humbling moment was were during my farewell parties. There were many organized and at the end of two of those they prayed for me. 10 people standing there with their eyes closed saying prayers for me. What enormity of the human spirit!

I know this all sounds too incoherent and I probably did not say what I had set out too but I think this is good just as it is. I am not going to edit this or make it more readable because for me this  not a blogpost for people to read but a moment that I have lived.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Energy, Education & Employment - Lets change India

For a very long time I used to think that the issue of any country’s development is a matter of time and, like Adam Smith’s invisible hands of supply and demand, is driven by natural forces of societal evolution. An essential feature of this belief was that there is very little that the current generation can influence and all societies must endure their journey through poverty, poor medical facilities and illiteracy until somehow over a long period of time the societal forces would deliver us into a new era.

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to visit and live in different countries. This has exposed me to the ways of working of different societies. These countries essentially encompass the entire spectrum of economic development between them. There will be little argument about the benefits of visiting developed nations. A visit to these nations helps us in setting goals for our development. We can learn a lot about new technologies, social structures etc and try and replicate them in our own countries. The advantages of visits to poor countries and lesser developed societies are equally large. It makes you aware of the many mistakes that are being made unconsciously. It makes you aware of your strengths. For example in Nigeria I see that simple things such as immigration procedure are all messed up. Now in India I know this works fairly well, I try and compare the processes in two countries and in the end the only reason I can think of for the differences are those people on the ground.

The earnestness with which people on the ground do their job in the end makes all the difference. So that’s it. This is also my solution for the development of India.

It needs a bit of analysis though. Let’s revisit the statement. “The earnestness with which people on the ground do their job in the end makes all the difference”. The key elements here are “people” which we have in plenty, “earnestness” which has to do with character, “on the ground” which alludes to penetration across the whole value chain and “job” which is about opportunity. For a society to progress it all needs to come together.

The next challenge therefore, is to establish how this will come together. Those who believe in my previous theory would say that there is bare little that we can do proactively and therefore we must wait for the invisible hands of social change to do it for us. I, however, am of a different mind now. And this again in part is influenced by my stay in Nigeria. There is so much around here that I believe can be changed by little effort from the people. And extrapolating that thought to India I can think of so much that we can do in India to change it almost overnight. Ambitious – yes, impossible – certainly not.

So my solution is simple. Fix three things: energy supply, education and employment. In fact the three elements (I will refer to them as 3E’s from now on) are already dependent and therefore a little effort on one front will produce results on all 3.

Energy supply is critical. Whether we like it or not without energy we are paralysed. Yes the fossil fuels are running out, yes the CO2 levels are rising to alarming levels, yes the pollution caused by vehicles and industries is reaching fatal levels but still the harsh reality is that we need energy and we need more energy. Can we influence it? Well, yes, but compared to the other two E’s this one can be influenced a lot less by common man. But let’s just say that the government is thinking about it all the time and it is high on the agenda with the new nuclear power plants and distribution networks being set up. Energy will be needed to afford a respectable life to humans. It is that simple.

Education by far is the biggest E. It can make all the difference at all the levels. And it is the responsibility of each one of us. The fact that we are writing or reading on our computers qualifies us to be an agent of change. Education will not only qualify our work force for jobs but good education will address the issue of earnestness identified in my solution above. And that is key. Let us not forget that education in its narrow sense will only get us opportunities but what we make of those opportunities will depend on the education in its broad sense. Sceptics would now say but what about corruption and what about irresponsible civil behaviour. Education in my opinion will address a large part of that. But then there will always be the likes of Lehmann and Maddoff scams which were propounded by well educated people and which can only be managed by managing the consequence with a sound legal framework. Education will enable us to develop such framework. Petty bribes and thefts will see a significant reduction if people are educated and are grounded on strong moral principles.

Even for prestigious higher institutions like IITs and IIMs the advise holds. Most students entering these institutions might have a lot of raw intellect but there is still a long way to go before each one of them can boast of being world class. Access to education has to be a right. And recently government of India has made it one of the fundamental rights.

The last E is employment. In part it is a consequence of the previous two. In part it will have to be consciously cultivated. Government needs to put in frameworks which empowers entrepreneurs and Indian business houses to create more jobs. Mass herd jobs which downgrade individual’s capability by offering mere money should be condemned. Writer’s, authors and public speakers have a role to play. The education system itself should make students aware of the nature of the industry out there and the key elements of the business value chain. Employment by itself is not enough, it should be of the right kind for the right person. On the one hand one should not be ashamed of doing lesser skilled jobs in order to learn and progress but on the other as a country we should be concerned about creating a lost generation.

It is a good time now for the government of India to start regulating our corporate sector. Given our demographics we are certainly in the driving seat and we must take advantage of this situation to clean up the corporate systems in India. Minimum wage for different skill levels should be enforced. Quality of work environment and other work conditions should be effectively monitored.

So thats my simple solution. And as citizens what we can influence is education.
I am up for an Education Revolution. I am happy to tie up with anyone who has an idea or is already a member of a group.

Lets change India.