See Behind the Curtain of QS World University Rankings 2022

I will begin on a lighter note because what follows is serious and may be tough, harsh and unsavoury for quite a few learned people.

There is a joke about a man asking his son about his result in the school, which is narrated nearly in all parts of the country. Rendered in local dilect with local nuances and cultural flavour, the outcome is always hilarious.  This joke goes something like this –

Man (to his son Ramu) – tell me, whether you passed this time or have failed the exams once again

Ramu (replying to his father) – I have stood fourth in the class

Man – very good Ramu, but did you pass

Ramu – Gopal (Head master’s son) has stood sixth in the class, I have done better than Gopal

Man – Poor Gopal, he remained behind you, but did he pass or not

Ramu – only Dheeru and Golu passed, they stood first and second. Don’t get angry with me, I am better than 36 in my class. Only 3 are better than me.

Man (in angry and abusive tone) – Idiot, you failed again

Clearly, the result was only 5% (2 out of 40) pass rate.

Let us now look at the QS World University Rankings 2022. India has celebrated that three of our institutions – IIT Bombay (shared rank 177), IIT Delhi (rank 185) and IISc Bangalore (shared rank 186) continue to remain in the top 200 ranked Universities of the World even in 2022. The Prime Minister (https://twitter.com/narendramodi/status/1402628065474203650) and the Education Minister (https://twitter.com/DrRPNishank/status/1402559433259962371) also congratulated these institutions, and rightly so, rankings do give us a sense of achievement. We need to be careful however, if our euphoria (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-emerging-a-vishvaguru-says-ramesh-pokhriyal-after-3-indian-institutes-figure-in-top-200-qs-world-university-rankings/articleshow/83373333.cms ) is like that of a Ramu or a Golu?

QS World University Rankings 2022 feature 1,300 universities from around the world. There are 35 Indian Universities in this list of 1300. (https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022 )

Universities were evaluated according to a weighted average of the six metrics – Academic Reputation (40%), Employer Reputation (10%), Faculty/Student Ratio (20%), Citations per faculty (20%), International Faculty Ratio (5%), and International Student Ratio (5%).

The matrices are reported as measurements on an analogue interval scale (0-100) which are then aggregated into an overall score (weighted average). The overall score is therefore on an analogue interval scale (0-100).

The overall score was then ordered from high to low and discreet ranks awarded as 1, 2, 3, and 4 and so on. Universities tied at same overall score share the same rank and the next rank is then skipped to account for double cases at same rank. In such ranking, among the top 200 ranks, three institutions from India figured.

Let us try to see beneath the veil of these ranks.

  • MIT, which ranks first has an overall score of 100 (rounded up) composed of Academic Reputation (40% of 100), Employer Reputation (10% of 100), Faculty/Student Ratio (20% of 100), Citations per faculty (20% of 100), International Faculty Ratio (5% of 100), and International Student Ratio (5% of 91.4).
  • The overall scores are thus some kind of ratings for the Universities. Interestingly, as we go down the ranking list, the overall score drops very fast – Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh United States scores less than 75% but ranks at 53; Hanyang University, Seoul South Korea scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; Maastricht University, Maastricht Netherlands scores less than 50% but ranks at 156; and University of Missouri, Columbia United States scores less than 25% but ranks at 476.
  • Overall Scores for Universities ranked at 501 or lower are nor reported (they scored 24 or less out of 100)

Let us revert to performance by the institutions from India. There are 35 institutions from India in the list of 1300 ranked institutions, of which 3 are in top-200, 5 more are in the 201-500 group, another 14 are in the next 500 ranks while the remaining 13 are in the last 300 ranks. The top-3 institutions from India are rated and ranked as under:

  • IIT Bombay (Academic Reputation -51.3, Employer Reputation -79.6, Faculty/Student Ratio- 32.5, Citations per faculty -55.5, International Faculty Ratio – 1.5, International Student Ratio – 1.6; Overall score – 46.4; rank-177),
  • IIT Delhi (Academic Reputation -45.8, Employer Reputation -70.8, Faculty/Student Ratio- 30.9, Citations per faculty -70.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.7; Overall score – 45.9; rank 185)

and

  • IISc Bangalore (Academic Reputation -34.2, Employer Reputation -19.2, Faculty/Student Ratio- 48.8, Citations per faculty -100.0, International Faculty Ratio – 1.2, International Student Ratio – 1.8; Overall score – 45.7; rank 186)

The next 5 ranked institutions are:

  • IIT Madras (Overall score – 38.1, rank 255),
  • IIT Kanpur (Overall score – 36.4, rank 277),
  • IIT Kharagpur (Overall score – 36.3, rank 280),
  • IIT Guwahati (Overall score – 28.3, rank 395) and
  • IIT Roorkee (Overall score – 28.0, rank 400).

Here is what the rating data displays:

  • Only the public institutions of technology and science are able to find a place in the top-500 club. These are deemed to be universities but not a university in the real sense of the term. A university is multi-disciplinary, spanning across humanities, science, commerce and social sciences rather than being confined to a very narrow focus on technology.
  • There is no real Indian University in the top-500 ranks. South Africa has 4 real universities in the top-500 club.
  • As against 8 institutions from India in the top-500 club, Europe has 212 institutions, United States has 87 institutions while Rest of Asia has 117 institutions (includes 26 from mainland China, 16 from Japan).
  • These 8 institutions do not account for even 1% of the total university enrolment in India.
  • The best of best in India scores only 46% marks as compared to the best in the world score of 100%.
  • There are large variances in the scores for Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty/Student Ratio and Citations per faculty within the top 3 whose ranks are spread over only 9 ranks.
  • Employer reputation seems to exceed Academic Reputation for the high ranked institutions in India. IISc turns out to be an exception in reputation as well as in its Citation score.

Makeup is used as a beauty aid to help build up the self-esteem and confidence of an individual. Like NIRF Rankings (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350354434_NIRF%27s_India_Rankings_Are_Ludicrous) QS World University Rankings 2022 are a makeup for educational institutions. This makeup conceals the ugly pockmarks on the face of Universities in India. It is unfortunate that the Education Minister has utilized this makeup to beat the harsh lights and the glare of camera flashes which would expose the rot in education system.

By calling these rankings as a testimony for India’s “leap in the field of Education & Research and is emerging as a VISHVAGURU” Education Minister is only proving his lack of understanding and literateness. Surely, he remembers well – “Parde Mein Rehne Do Parda Na Uthao, Parda Jo Uth Gaya To Bhedh Khul Jayega, Allah Meri Tauba – Allah Meri Tauba” (परदे में रहने दो पर्दा न उठाओ, पर्दा जो उठ गया तो भेद खुल जायेगा, अल्लाह मेरी तौबा – अल्लाह मेरी तौबा) keep the curtain on, don’t lift the curtain, If the curtain is lifted, then the secret will be revealed, Allah is my repentance – Allah is my repentance.

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First published 12 June 2021

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Customer Disservice in the Name of Service

What could be the height of customer service – this question was answered by a former Managing Director of LIC of India during an informal gathering – and he had described it as a hypothetical episode:

“A customer walks into the LIC office, a multi storey building in south Mumbai, gets his life insured, climbs up to the top, and takes a jump from top which would definitely result into his death. While he is falling down, an LIC official extends his hand out of the window and presses a cheque for his claim settlement, so that the claim is in already in his hand when he is hits the ground and is discovered dead.”

Howsoever macabre the narration may feel, the reality of expectations both from the point of customer and customer-service personnel is captured realistically.

Marketing chases growth through a combination of four basic approaches –

expand the possibility for consumption,

enlarge the number of occasions for consumption,

swell the number of consumers, and

increase consumption per occasion of consumption.

A simple example for any typical mouth-wash will show the above approaches in practice. Let us understand the product and its evolution.

We have probably been cleaning our teeth ever since humans began using tools. From toothbrushes made out of sticks, to dental floss made out of horse hair, we have always been mindful of our oral health. But what about a mouthwash and when did we start swishing liquid around hoping for cleaner mouths?

There are references to mouthwash in Chinese, Greek, Egyptian and Roman literature, but the most well recorded early instances of humanity using mouthwash comes from ancient Rome, in A.D. 1. The Romans used to buy bottles of Portuguese urine and use that as a rinse. GROSS! Importing bottled urine became so popular that the emperor Nero taxed the trade. The ammonia in urine was thought to disinfect mouths and whiten teeth, and urine remained a popular mouthwash ingredient until the 18th century. [So much for the modernists of the world who ridicule, deride, mock and scorn at the medicinal use of urine of cows and auto-urine therapists like Morarji Desai]

People have used some strange combinations – besides urine – as mouthwash. Tortoise blood was once thought to disinfect mouths and clean teeth, and mixtures of berries, mint leaves and vinegar or wine has also been used as mouthwash. In the 12th century, Saint Hildegard von Bingen advocated that swishing pure, cold water could remove plaque and tartar.

Known as the “father of modern microbiology,” Anton van Leeuwenhoek is credited for discovering oral bacteria in the 18th century. Upon his discovery, he experimented with a variety of solutions that could kill the bacteria. Leeuwenhoek discovered that he could immobilize and kill bacteria by dousing them in ammonia and/or alcohol. It is around this time that alcohol became the most popular ingredient used in mouthwash – and it is still used today!

In 1865, English doctor Joseph Lister became the first surgeon to perform an operation in a chamber that had been sterilized with antiseptic – a practice that was very uncommon. After Lister’s practice was discovered to reduce mortality rates, it became a more widespread practice.

Inspired by Dr. Lister, Robert Wood Johnson and Dr. Joseph Lawrence modernized surgical sterilization practices and established the iconic company Johnson & Johnson. In 1879, Dr. Lawrence created Listerine – a mouthwash used for cleaning mouths and sterilizing surgical wounds.

By 1895, Listerine was sold to Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. and dentists began to observe the cleaning power of the mouthwash. In 1914, Listerine became the first prescription mouthwash to be sold over the counter in the United States.

Today, we can buy mouthwash for gum health, to help with plaque build-up and to prevent gingivitis. There is mouthwash for just about every oral ailment that we can have. [expand the possibility for consumption].

We are advised to use mouthwash every time we brush our teeth but also before every social interaction [enlarge the number of occasions for consumption].

Mouthwash is for everyone, adolescents, adults and the elderly, with normal oral health [swell the number of consumers].

We are advised not to dilute the mouthwash, its pungency being an indicator of its efficiency and to use sufficient (more) quantity of mouthwash – as per the measuring cup provided free – every time we use it [increase consumption per occasion to consume].

In the pursuit for such growth in sales, more particularly in case of consumption of services, machine driven CRM software has had a field day. CRM specialists can be heard professing, “If you are not focused on receiving and using customer feedback, you are missing out on an amazing growth tool. Gathering customer feedback throughout the entire customer journey is of great importance to the buyer life cycle, marketing campaigns and the entire consumer experience. As focuses shift to improving this experience, continuous feedback will be required.”

There are other claims of the kind, “Due to the recent technology and digital transformation boom, an entire ‘customer revolution’ has taken place and a new breed of informed and socially engaged Customer 2.0 has appeared. No longer is price or product the reason why a customer does business with you. Today, it’s all about the customer experience. To be competitive, you need to go above and beyond expectations and deliver a great experience.”

While all such exaggerated statements are correct, the missing link is treating a customer as a human being with ‘individualized identity’ and not as a commodity.

A sad and inhuman experience a few months back is an example of how customers are undifferentiated items of a commodity. [This is not a made up story and I have documented evidence to prove it should the hospital in question wish to challenge it].

Smt xxxxxx Gupta, mother of my close friend breathed her last at a premier private hospital in Jaipur.  Since CRM systems of hospitals maintain Customer-records in the name of patients, their automated CRM system sent a message “Dear xxxxxx Gupta, Thank you for availing services at Fortis. Request you to spare 60 seconds to share your experience with us. Click here: https://tinyurl.com/y3pufy8n?id=FxBCHqV8a

The system did not capture that Smt xxxxxx Gupta was already dead. My friend, a higher-ranking vice-chancellor, was crestfallen with the experience. He responded, “on behalf of my mother in the heaven, I am sending you the following response… ‘your customer service manager is welcome to visit me here in this tranquil and serene place (cremation ground) for a feedback’ …”

The CRM system was at its best in replying to late Smt xxxxxx Gupta, “Thank you for your valuable feedback.   We are sorry to learn that your experience wasn’t up to your satisfaction. We have taken your feed back into consideration and shall take appropriate action. We wish you good health always.”

The counter-response to the reply supplied by my friend against the request for feedback from late Smt xxxxxx Gupta is rubbing salt in fresh wounds.

What has really gone wrong? The answer is simple – the CRM database refuses to acknowledge the difference between a customer and a consumer. In this case, Smt xxxxxx Gupta was a consumer while her son was the customer. The contact details captured were of the customer but the feedback was being solicited from the consumer. The CRM system did not know if it was seeking feedback from the consumer of the customer. This is a case where the consumer is dead and the post sales feedback has rendered a disservice to the customer.

I have had personal experiences of receiving unending trail of phone calls from Maruti Authorised Nexa Service Stations chasing me for feedback, so much so that upon my refusal to provide feedback, I have been chastened by the customer service executives that I was legally duty-bound to provide the feedback. I have evidence to prove that the nuisance did not stop much until after I had escalated my suffering and harassment to the senior management of Maruti Udyog Limited.

These days, I and my spouse are suffering at the incompetent, uncaring and arrogant customer service team at Axis Bank. They are very good at hitting the self-esteem of their customers. We have been their customer since last 25-years. I have taken up the matter with the RBI Ombudsman and hope that the service failure is now dealt with quickly and squarely. A similar unpleasant experience with Corporation Bank was dealt with by their management very quickly and humanely where I was treated with dignity. They have succeeded in retaining me as their customer.

It is unfortunate that many service providers use Customer feedback to soften and pre-empt customer reaction to lapses in service rendered rather than any genuine concern for better customer service or improved customer experience.

It is time for the customer to stop taking bullshit from marketers and service-providers. It is time for the customer to REJECT such marketers and RAISE VOICE against such disservice.

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First published 17 Dec 2020

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The LANCET’s Pessimism on India’s optimism

Both, human nature and human custom, has constraints and boundaries which keep reminding us of human imperfection and of the fragility of real communities. Pessimism is the recognition that these constraints and boundaries make impossible any planned, rational transformation of society. However, history is replete with examples where societies have been transformed through the belief that we can advance collectively to our goals by adopting a common plan, and by working towards it. Optimism is therefore the key to change and transformation while pessimism guards the hierarchy and status quo. As they say, excess of everything is bad, so is true for optimism and pessimism, which is why there is a concept of realism.

On 26 September, the Free Press Journal published a news article saying that “The renowned medical journal, Lancet, has cautioned India on the danger of presenting the current pandemic situation with too positive a spin. It not only clouds reality but also hampers vital public health initiatives.” The link can be found at https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/india-is-creating-a-false-optimism-reputed-medical-journal-lancet-on-indias-handling-of-the-pandemic.  Having carried out some forecasting for COVID-19 cases in April and May 2020, purely for academic joy, this news report intrigued me and motivated me to look up at the “THE LANCET” caution.

 “The LANCET” which began as an independent, international weekly general medical journal in 1823, claims to make science widely available so that medicine can serve, and transform society, and positively impact the lives of people.

People in general and decision makers around the world have a great regard for “The Lancet” which has over time evolved as a family of journals across various medical and health specialities.

“The LANCET” has captioned its editorial to Vol. 396, September 26, 2020, on p. 867 as “COVID-19 in India: the dangers of false optimism.”

First things first – this is an editorial opinion and not a piece of research. An editorial opinion is expressed with the purpose of influencing public opinion and public-policy and may not be taken as non-purposive or unbiased. While this editorial makes some palpable hits, it is hard to separate the wheat of philosophical wisdom from the chaff of prejudice.

Next – it is a well accepted cardinal principle that false optimism is fraught with peril. False pessimism is equally fraught with peril. If the fallacies of optimism are human universals, what is more corrupting is not the attempt to do the impossible, but the failure even to attempt it. Progressive changes, however, rarely happen by chance. History is a narrative of humans rationally and consciously transforming the world. To give up on “goal-directed policies and politics” is to give up possibilities of betterment.

The example of DG of ICMR envisaging launching a coronavirus vaccine on Aug 15, quoted by The LANCET, is surely an optimism of “unscrupulous” form, but questioning the lower case-fatality-rate in India because it is lower than the reported rate in other (western) countries is unscientific. In order to support such unscientific opinion, The LANCET goes on to suspect the entire COVID-19 data from India and suggests that this number is a political spin.

Case-fatality-rate is the ratio of deaths to cases; and its lower value would mean lower deaths for same number of cases. It could also be lower if the reported number of cases is higher for same number of deaths. What is The LANCET alleging – is India under-reporting deaths or over-reporting cases?

A scientific mind should question previous results in face of new data rather than the reliability of the new data unless one is sure that the previous data was more reliable than the new data. Data is the message and data-reports are brought by messengers; new data should lead to questioning of results, not the message.

Is this pessimism of some “unscrupulous” kind clouding the mindset of LANCET which is unwilling to accept that India might be making headway in war against COVID-19 leaving behind the expected leaders of any such success?

How would The LANCET react if one were to say that this editorial is a political spin against India’s success to protect the world’s perception of traditional western supremacy?

Is The LANCET advocating that, rather than seeking utopian solutions, radical alternatives or bold initiatives, India should muddle through with “compromise and half measures” mindful that no ultimate solutions are up for grabs?

Is The LANCET proposing for India to be “a community without convictions” marked by irony and subservience?

The LANCET is posturing as if it is exposing the blindness and the hypocrisies of the Indian politics, but its editors seem to be notorious for never acknowledging that there might be some too in the developed west. The LANCET’s editorial calling India’s COVID-19 numbers as ‘false optimism’ lacks logical or scientific reasoning and suffers from survivorship bias of quantitative back-testing using past indices.

I am neither a leftist nor a rightist. I hold no brief for India or its political class, but I do wish to raise my voice as a citizen of India, which has held on to traditions of conservative political philosophy but, which is unwilling to shut her eyes to continued propagation of western supremacy, who have tried to make heaven on earth, and ended up making it hell.

(First published 28 Sep 2020)

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Astrology and Medicine

When the going gets tough, the well-being begins to decline. People begin searching for ways to preserve their mental health outside of traditional or professional counselling and that is when they fall into astrology. Based on the day, time, and location of their birth and some Google-search, they craft their astrological chart and from there begins the researching on how planetary patterns impact day-to-day life.

In such testing times, the young easily fall into New Age trends, including employing astrology as a substitute for traditional counselling. At a time when healthcare is very expensive and organized religion is in disarray, reading horoscopes, receiving tarot readings, and practicing witchcraft can provide a cushion of stability for many.

Astrologer Acharya Vinod Kumar in an Instagram post has predicted that coronavirus will end in India between September and November. He goes on, “There are several reasons for the outbreak but most important of all is the collective karmic cycle that has finally caught up with the humanity. A return to “Satvik” lifestyle is advised & over consumption to be avoided or else Mother Nature knows how to settle the scores. Not just him, multiple other astrologers have predicted that the effects of coronavirus will cease to exist soon. “But fortunately, on March 30, Guru is leaving Ketu’s alliance and entering Capricorn. That means after March 30, we will all be free from the effects of the coronavirus. This will start from 2.58 pm on March 24 itself,” said Ashish Mehta. Another UAE-based astrologer, Acharya Sandeep Bhargava, also predicted that the pandemic will end this year globally by May 11. Upendra Shastri, another Dubai-based astrologer also claimed that things will have a positive turn from May onwards. (see https://www.deccanherald.com/national/when-will-coronavirus-end-in-india-and-across-globe-astrologers-prediction-815370.html)

When people are scared, confused, and want to feel safe, astrology is a great way to learn that the conflict will eventually pass. Outside of needing to have a smartphone and internet access, there are no real barriers to accessing astrology.

Astrology gives answers to people’s questions quickly, whereas mental healthcare is time-consuming and costly. So many people are obsessed with astrology because it is a cheap alternative to therapy that can, in some respects, guide their understanding of their health and their behaviour.

Astrology can, in some ways, explain what someone is feeling and why someone is feeling it. Being “diagnosed” as a Pisces with a Capricorn moon and Leo ascendant is more digestible for people sometimes than the deep unearthing of trauma that at times arises for them in traditional therapy.

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are overflowing with memes, posts and videos specifically about the planets. Many people describe themselves by way of their sun, moon, and rising signs, a language they have learned on the internet and are now bringing to bear in real-life interactions.

Astrology provides a great framework for exploring topics like love, familial roles, sex, friendships, grief, the positions we consistently put ourselves in, the ways we cope in times of stress, and so much more.

While many Indians have believed in Astrology for ages, a 2017 Pew Research Study found that nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States believe in astrology. Yet there is still plenty of criticism lobbed at this tool for self-understanding and reflection both in India and the US.

Many people at some point in their lives have relied heavily on astrology to assess and improve their mental and emotional functioning. Those who have not done it so far may do it sometime in future. Many lean into the soft form of relief astrology provides.

The most interesting thing about astrology is that it is related to Medicine in all the three kinds of associations – complementary, supplementary and substitute.

As the illness increases, people who use more of medical services may simultaneously use astrological services to complement the therapy or even supplement the therapy. Astrological services can serve as substitute to medical services when people begin to look for alternative choices.

 

(First published 06 April 2020)

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Great Indian Political Bazaar: Battle for People’s Mind

Religion played the biggest role in the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan, former around the ethos of ‘secular’ nationalism while later advocating the idea of ‘religious’ nationalism.

Secularism has only a binary – “neutral” versus “religious.” Congress took the position of “neutrality” and successfully positioned Jinnah’s Muslim League as “religious” thereby claiming the majority support of the Hindus, who by default are, the most-secular people in the world; having never despised anyone’s alternative religion or God.

Sanjay Gandhi had run the most blatant anti-Muslim political and administrative agenda during the internal emergency era of 1975-77.  This had alienated the Muslims from the Congress completely. To, Congress started adopting the process of minority appeasement as a way to woo them back and convert them into a captive vote-bank of the party. Thus Congress tried to position its biggest political rival, BJP, as “religious (Hindu)” nationalist party taking for itself the position of “secular” nationalist party.

Wearing the mask of ‘secular’ nationalism, Congress perpetuated a narrative of ‘religious’ nationalism as the ethos of the BJP (erstwhile “Jansangh”). This was an exact replay of its pre-independence strategy wherein Congress had tried to position, albeit successfully, itself as a “secular” nationalist party leading to Muslim League, then its biggest political rival, getting positioned as “religious (Muslim)” nationalist party.

Their strategy fired back this time.

In trying to attribute “non-secular” credentials to Hindu majority, whose support, Congress had earlier gathered successfully, during the pre-independence era by attributing “secular” credentials to them, was a letdown for the Hindus, who rightly felt cheated by the Congress.

Hindus saw through the game of Congress for whom, Jinnah’s Muslim minority was ‘religious’ and Gandhi-Nehru’s Hindu Majority was ‘secular’ until independence. But after independence, the same Hindu Majority became ‘non-secular’ and the left-over Muslim Minority became ‘secular.’ Playing this game, Congress has ended up creating problems and setbacks to the very existence of Muslims within an ever ‘secular’ India.

Notwithstanding the massive grass-root and ground-level effort put in by them, quite a lot of support came to BJP as rejection to Congress. Because people hated the new strategy of minority-appeasement of Congress, the party started accusing BJP of ‘politics of hate.’ Such accusations alienated the secular Hindus still more from the Congress.

Through its own folly, Congress has ended up taking the positioning of “religious (Muslim)” party, in the mind of the citizens, a positioning that was vacated by the Muslim-League after independence. In this transition of Congress from “secular” to “religious” the yawning void which was left behind is now occupied by the BJP.

History is repeating. Congress had evicted Muslim-League from the Indian political arena, using its majority support, the collateral damage being in the form of partition of India.

Congress may be well-advised to rethink its strategy before the BJP evicts it from the bazaar of politics, using its majority-support. BJP and its supporters must be cautious of any similar collateral damages and ensure that no division of India happens ever again.

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It Takes Enormous Acumen to Make a Sham Political Narrative Work

Doesn’t matter if the storyteller is an accused on bail, low on intellectual credibility, immature in behaviour and clown-like in public-conduct, RaGa could still pose to be doing ‘good’ without being ‘good.’

RaGa used a slogan, “chowkidaar chor hai,” and kept repeating it ad nauseum until the pitch and the frequency of his utterances started re-engineering narratives and characters to remove perceived inconsistencies, discomfort, distaste and the inappropriateness, focusing attention on sometimes highly imperfect humanity, making the audience beginning to believe that there ought to be some truth in the allegations, punching a massive hole in NaMo’s credibility.

The alignment RaGa created in the financial secrecy of the Rafael deal and the financial despair of Anil Ambani Group was fine bedrock to reengineer the narratives and characters of NaMo and RaGa to make them more ‘correct, balanced, even, fair and ultimately inoffensive’ (sic) to the perception of “possibility of corruption.”

Bad is good, especially in storytelling. Most interesting stories in the world have God against Satan; Ram against Raavan; Yudhishtir against Duryodhan; Good against Bad. Bad provides friction. Discomfort and imperfection make for more interesting narratives. RaGa pitched himself as the ‘Bad’ against a ‘Good’ NaMo. People love a good “baddie.” Remember the Robin Hood stories. In fact, our waking dislike of goody-goodies mostly outweighs our dislike of baddies.

Then RaGa got down to ironing out the creases of our imperfect humanity, our need to swear and cuss, our sometimes sleepwalk stereotyping; our baseness, old prejudices and new loathing; our lazy referencing, erasing all of that made no sense to many.

The baddie was our best bit in an election discourse which was devoid of any themes or issues. The mad, bad and dangerous to know RaGa was the greatest unrealised character in the whole idea. In fact, in true megalomaniac, socio-psychopathic, fully paid up, narcissistic fashion, it was turning out to be all about him. RaGa was the flame that the moths would fly to. RaGa in all his camp, scratchy, self-obsessed, slightly savant, childish, distracted, brutal and nihilistic ugliness was the most beautiful thing that we had in this election.

But that is where RaGa, whom some call as “Pappu” turned out to be a real “Pappu.” He was smart in building the false narrative but he could not sustain it to its conclusion. His falsehood came to the fore through his goof-up with the Supreme Court. The moment he tried to infer that the virtuous court was an endorser of his narrative, the narrative fell apart. If there was a chance to recover, his “Pappu” interview with the NDTV and India-Today killed it. Having confessed of his game plan to destroy the popularity of “Good,” the traction, which his narrative was getting, also blew apart.

We need the baddie to be the best character because, in most traditional storytelling, the baddie is usually us, at our ugly worst, unvarnished and heavily flawed; and the heroes are us, as we could be. The baddie is the measure by which we mark our hope, our optimism of what we could be and the journey to it. In all storytelling, the “Bad” is never an idiot; rather wise and intelligent; but these interviews pitched “Pappu” as real “Pappu- devoid of any wisdom.”

Game over. Propaganda will fizzle out. “Baddie-the wise” is a winner not “Baddie-the Pappu.”

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Slug-Fests Going From ‘Madness’ To ‘Beyond Madness’

In the country his family has ruled for 38 years and his party has ruled for over 60 years out of 72 years of Independent India, never ever has the political discourse been taken to such low on content, language and lack of concern for consequences arising out of what is being said, as has been done in the ongoing general elections.

Unable to think through and adjust to the powerlessness for last five years and helplessness against the cases of corruption slowly closing in on him and his family, Rahul Gandhi has stooped to such abysmal low on abusing and accusing not so much Narendra Modi but the Prime Minister of India – that the office of the Prime Minister has been subjected to hate speech from the public platform he uses for election campaigning.

No surprises if he wins the title of “the world’s most insulting politician.” He has accused the present government which Narendra Modi heads, of “intolerance” of “crony-capitalism” and of “neglect of the poor” all the charges, his party and his party’s successive regimes stand proven guilty of.

His grandmother was the India’s biggest jailer of journalists. During his party’s regime of 2004-2014, which many within the establishment, like Bangaru Laxman, have shown how his mother remotely ran, her law enforcement authorities arrested and indicted a lady for Hindu-terrorism.

The insanity went on; it is probably now beyond the level it was before. The heir of the family and so also the heir apparent of the 130 year old political party criticised the ruling political party for “trying to topple his one-man regime and substitute it with democracy within his party.”

It was Rahul Gandhi and his ultra-loyal partners who turned a simple election to a few state assemblies into an existential political war. The promises and allurements for buying votes of the gullible rained like cats and dogs. None of those allurements which were promised for delivery within 15 days, were even intended to be kept and have therefore remained not kept even after 150 days of his party being voted to power in those states.

This general election of April-May 2019, Rahul Gandhi and his ultra-loyal lieutenants are pitching as a matter of “national survival” for India. The ruling party has turned the argument on its head and are pitching the efforts of Rahul Gandhi as desperate struggle for “survival of his party and the control of his family on the party.”

Rahul Gandhi has been trying to exert damage control and keep morale among party fans high. But he seems to remain nervous.

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Wellness – how a whole new business was created?

America, for decades, has been gripped by a deep-seated fear of fat, and that fear has spread to India. But the current American thinking about weight—and the belief that people need to control it by eating “clean,” home-cooked, restrictive meals—originates from a less glamorous but far more influential group of people: The mostly white, mostly male, mostly thin food writers and chefs who have been setting the agenda of what they call the “good food movement” for the past couple of decades. And in the process, they’ve turned being thin—and eating in the way they think guarantees thinness—into a moral imperative.

Being wise, wealthy and healthy was the imperative but being thin was made a fad and becoming thin through dieting was made a fashion. Under the opportunity-grabbing business managers, dieting was re-branded into wellness and cosmetic looks started connoting health. The willpower-weight myth turned eating—an activity that, at its core, should provide comfort just as much as nutrition—into a contest of self-discipline and deprivation.

Away from Medical and Health-care business, a new Wellness business was manufactured – slowly encompassing and expanding into health foods, organic foods, low cal foods, food supplements, home weighing scales, gyms, body-sculpting, and the list is endless.

Research shows that changing our body size by changing our diet is virtually impossible: No matter what the plan is, and no matter how much ‘Lauki’ juice is involved, dieters lose at most just 5 to 10 percent of their body weight in the first six months. Most then regain that weight, and then some, within one to five years.

There is this rise of wellness culture in which the diet industry strives to disconnect us from our body’s innate hunger and fullness cues. It is a revelation to exactly nobody that a thin man can eat whatever he wants and not hear anything beyond some gentle “you are damn lucky, you can eat anything!” In contrast, people — especially if they’re middle-aged —experience weight stigma much more frequently than others. We can’t “just eat whatever we want” because we are continuously being reminded to view our bodies as unruly, undisciplined, and in need of constant vigilance. And so we boil cabbage for soup, cut out carbohydrates – especially wheat and rice, and start diets because we long ago internalized that it is wrong to be hungry for whatever we’re really hungry for.

In fact, normal, healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes beyond the narrow spectrum of ‘Thin Guys and gals.’ And diets don’t fail because we lack the willpower; they fail because our bodies evolved to prevent weight loss as a protective measure. When our body senses that caloric or macro-nutrient restriction is afoot, it responds by slowing our metabolism to conserve resources and stimulating hunger hormones that remind us to eat. This has helped humans withstand eons of food scarcity; it is, admittedly, less helpful when we are hoping to maintain the results of our ‘Karela-juice’ detox past winters. But that is a good thing, because we also know that attempting weight loss repeatedly is bad for our health. According to research published in the International Journal of Obesity, women who lost at least 5 kilos three or more times within a four-year period were more likely to struggle with binge eating and get less physical activity than non-dieters.

Many Indians believe or are made to believe that losing weight is a matter of individual responsibility. This is currently fuelling a different kind of epidemic. Recent studies estimate that 50 percent of teenage girls and 25 percent of teenage boys are on diets. One study found that 1 in 8 girls had voluntarily made her to vomit within the previous three months. The rate of eating disorders in adolescents now outstrips their rate of type 2 diabetes. Restriction makes us sick. Today’s food environment has become judgmental.

Grains, beans and rice are perfectly fine foods. There’s no acknowledgement that some of us just don’t like beans that much. Or that some of us are eating plenty of rice and beans but are nevertheless still fat. It seems that some people—thin people—must have seen the light that the rest are blind to. We need to talk more about how many of the food rules come from people who will never have our bodies or wrestle with our cultural expectations—people who might have set out to make the planet healthier, but instead helped normalise dangerous and dysfunctional thinking about “good foods,” “bad foods,” and the moral value of the people who eat them.

For some amongst us who are so much conditioned into watching what they eat, here are some facts on nutrition and health:

  • The Japanese eat very little fat – and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Americans.
  • The Mexicans eat a lot of fat – and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Americans.
  • The Chinese drink very little red wine – and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Americans.
  • The Italians drink a lot of red wine – and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Americans.
  • The Germans drink a lot of beers and eat lots of sausages and fats – and suffer fewer heart attacks than the Americans.

We need to change such conversation which makes us feel moral sinners and cheaters for the guilt of eating. And eat what we damn well please.

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Advertising to children in the schools

Children in India spent more than Rs 220 Billion, given to them as pocket money during 2016. This amount was more than the GDP of 52 small countries which included Maldives and Bhutan.  Cartoon channel Pogo had conducted a survey on the pocket money of the kids in the country. The ‘Turner New Generation 2016’  study was conducted in all major cities and also places with more than 1 lakh population. This study had covered 6,690 respondents, including 7-14 year kids and parents of 4-14.

As per this study, 52% of the kids were receiving pocket money. The average pocket money received by the kids was Rs. 555/- per month. This amount had doubled over the last four years since a similar survey conducted by Pogo in 2012 had estimated the average pocket money of kids at Rs. 275/- per month then.  (https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/pocket-money-of-kids-in-india-more-than-gdp-of-52-countries-says-pogo-study/757331/ )

These children were not only buying products as toys, clothes, candy, and snacks but also saving up for big ticket purchases.  Children were found influencing the purchases made by their parents for microwave ovens (57%), washing machines (58%), refrigerators (62%), televisions (68%), mobiles (64%), cars (66%) and even the choices of travel destinations (78%); which may add up to at least Rs. 3000 Billion in parental purchases. 71 percent children had personal mobiles as well as other electronic gadgets with them. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/spend/kids-pocket-money-up-100-since-2012-turner-international-india-study/articleshow/53238075.cms)

Children are buyers themselves, they are major influencers of their parents’ purchases, and they are future adult consumers. As future adults, children are potential consumers for all goods and services. Children therefore attract many advertisers.

During the last 50 years, Indian children got their own foods/snacks and clothing brands and such high-ticket items as video games and other high-tech products besides dedicated TV networks.

New advertising strategies aimed at children steadily proliferate. Linking their products to educational goals, advertisers have reached into the schools by sponsoring such activities as literacy programmes, reading projects, anti-drug campaigns, and communication skills training, while rewarding students for good performance with coupons for products and free meals. In-school advertising and examples of in-school commercialism can be put into four categories:

  1. In-school ads that can be seen on hoardings, on school buses, on scoreboards, and in school galleries. In-school ads include ads on book covers. Advertising is also found in product coupons and in give-aways that are distributed in schools.
  2. Ads in classroom materials include any commercial messages in printed materials or video programming used in school.
  3. Sponsored educational materials include free or low-cost items which can be used for instruction. These teaching aids may take the form of multimedia teaching kits, CDs/DVDs, software, books, posters, reproducible activity sheets, and workbooks.
  4. Contests and incentive programs bring brand names into the schools along with the promise of such rewards as free pizzas, cash, and points toward buying educational equipment, or trips and other prizes.

Although some educators defend the use of commercially produced materials as a way of providing useful supplements to the curriculum or as a way of raising funds and building needed bridges to businesses, other educators oppose it, fearing that market values may, for the most part, take the place of democratic values in the schools. Those who defend the trend argue that commercialism is highly prevalent throughout our society and a bit more advertising in the schools should not adversely affect students. On the other hand, many educators do not want to participate in offering up students as a captive audience.

In dealing with the issues of in-school commercialism, a three-pronged approach may be considered:

  1. Reviewing all sponsored materials and activities and holding them to the same standards as other curriculum items.
  2. Pursuing non-commercial partnerships with businesses and rejecting the notion that it is ethical to bring advertising into the schools to provide materials or funds to bolster dwindling budgets.
  3. Beginning the teaching of media literacy in elementary school, to help educate children to be critical readers of advertising, propaganda, and other mass-mediated messages, while helping them gain the skills to be intelligent, aware consumers.

With the expanding presence of advertising targeted to younger and younger children, schools have become involved in serving up students as captive audiences to advertisers. It is time to pause and reflect on the appropriateness of various kinds of connections between businesses and schools, and the influence those connections might have on the integrity of education in a democracy. Although traditionally there have been links between business and education in this country, commercialism in schools has recently skyrocketed. The overall goal of collaboration between businesses and schools should be for business leaders, educators, parents, and government officials to work together “…to embrace practical, responsible approaches that will protect the educational integrity of our school systems.

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From Spiral to Circular Innovation

The Spiral of Innovation has been a “buzz phrase” in the business world. Idea of “New Product Development” was described according to the pace of bringing in the NEW – Continuous New Product Development, Dynamically Continuous New Product Development and Innovation (now also described as Disruptive).

The process centred around the concept of improvements; incremental or radical; over the previously developed products and thus there was a screw-pitched, spiral like developmental graph in three-dimensional modelling which would show up as a linear growth model in two-dimensional graphics. This worked well, so much so that businesses could lead the market through planned obsolescence.

The iPhone 6s is the perfect example: In spite of the revolutionary design that introduced us to the 12-megapixel camera and 3D Touch technology, its disappearance from the Apple store is enough to render it obsolete in the minds of consumers. Apple, the world’s second-largest Smartphone producer, signed the death warrant of the wildly popular iPhone 6s with the launch of new models iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, X, 8, 8 Plus, 7 and 7 Plus last quarter. This is planned obsolescence.

Very little has changed in the twelve months since the launch of the iPhone X.  The release of a new iPhone model marks the disappearance of the iPhone 6s from Apple’s catalogue — a mere three years after a release with so much of noise and fanfare. This well-oiled mechanism has been in place since the very first iPhone and Apple has conditioned its consumers to happily accept this pace of obsolescence.

In spite of Apple’s “psychological warfare against their common sense,” the iPhone 6s still retains the qualities that have made it one of the most popular smart phones ever, with over 80 million sold worldwide. These 80 million phones still have good years ahead of them. In its three years in the market, the iPhone 6s has taken the lead in the marketplace.

A linear “take-make-dispose” economy, which has been the most popular economic models around the world, since the industrial revolution, is largely wasteful because up to 90% of the raw materials used in the manufacturing process end up as waste even before leaving the production line. In addition, 80% of goods manufactured are eventually thrown away within the first six months, which translates to an unsustainable rate of wasting fast-diminishing natural resources.

Produce, use and dispose-off? No, reduce, reuse and recycle. The current paradigm of lineal economic model could be coming to an end and its place will be taken by the circular economy. Fortunately, a circular economy that is based on regeneration and restoration can help solve almost all the problems associated with a linear economy. More specifically, a circular economy aims to keep raw materials, goods, and product parts at their highest value and utility levels all the time. This is in addition to differentiating between biological and technical cycles.

As more ideas come about, more principles for circular innovation will emerge; but there are at least ten principles that define, as of now, how circular economy should work:

  1. Waste as a resource: is the main feature; all the biodegradable material returns to the nature and the non biodegradable is reused.
  2. Use: reintroducing those products that no longer correspond to the initial consumers needs back and once again in the economic circuit.
  3. Reuse: put to reuse certain products or parts of those products that still work to elaborate new artefacts.
  4. Reparation: give damaged products a second life.
  5. Recycle: make use of materials discarded as waste.
  6. Valorisation: harness energy from waste which can no longer be recycled.
  7. Sell functionality not ownership: eliminate sale of products and transfer of ownership. User rents the product and returns it to the company after using it, where it is put through use/reuse/reparation principles as may be possible.
  8. Switch to renewable Energy: eliminate use of fossil fuels to produce, reuse and recycle the product.
  9. Eco-design: considers and integrate the environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of a product.
  10. Ecological Management: establish optimized management of stocks and flows of materials, energy and services by industry and by geography.

 

The world is changing and there are campaigns to convince consumers to stop systematically turning to new models. This fight against a fetish, where new models are gobbled up and then soon enough purged, is an effective way to combat the overproduction of electronics, the overexploitation of natural resources, and the explosion of e-waste.

Certified refurbishing is one proven and reliable way to extend the life of electronics, keeping them out of the landfills. Fearing a social and market backlash, Apple has taken recent steps to improve the sustainability of its devices. It has committed to develop a closed-loop model for its supply chain by focusing on using only renewable resources and recycled materials and eliminating conflict materials from its value chain. The tech giant has already incorporated artificial intelligence, a robot called “Liam” to aid in the disassembling of products and recovery of components that can be recycled; and hopes to encourage more consumers to return products to be recycled and made into new equipment through its Apple Renew recycling program.

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