To the Prime Minister in waiting with love Shouldn’t we step out of our comfort zones?

Have you ever noticed how some people are determined to always get the last word in in every argument, discussion or debate? How they seem to wait till everyone is just about finished, when everyone but him / her has put their pens and writing pads away and pushed their chairs back to stand up, when this person decides to launch a fresh torrent of ideas that set things off on a tangent?

If this were all and such people had a valid observation to make that would lead a discussion forward or lend a fresh perspective to a problem, such people would have been bearable and definitely an asset to have on your team; but often times, such people either lurk in the sidelines waiting for the opportune moment to disrupt things or are every ready to launch a tirade against the windmills even when their isn’t an opposition in sight.

Such people speak because they like to hear the sound of their own voices; because they believe other’s expect them to speak; because they believe they should be considered the last word in everything being discussed however little their knowledge or experience of the subject; because they believe keeping quiet would equal defeat and they don’t believe in losing; or they simply don’t understand that their speaking at that time will virtually jeopardize the whole argument that the erstwhile speaker had striven to establish.

What really irks me the most is that such people, despite your prompting them, reasoning with them or even pleading with them are predictable to a fault: they will have to speak as surely as night follows day every time they find themselves in such a situation, and will continue to speak till everyone else in the room shuts up or turns away in sheer frustration. Little do they realize (or perhaps care about) the impression they create through their determined, more often than not completely uncalled for verbal jousting. The next time the twain meet, the audience, if intelligent, is better prepared for the ensuing verbal duel and either completely ignores the person or walks away from the discussion with ‘its  perhaps better for all of us to fight another day’ writ large on their faces.

What worries, is that the number of such people that I seem to be bumping into – as I pass through life – seems to be increasing exponentially. I meet such people at work, in my professional circles, in the housing society, when I am on holiday and even at parent-teacher meetings. What such people fail to realize that this rarely helps accomplish anything other than create a fragile equilibrium that is disturbed by the slightest tremor.

Is the predictability of their behavior, and their desperate need to be heard a sign of their competitiveness, their intelligence or their mediocrity? Aren’t the brilliant supposed to be somewhat unpredictable and eccentric? Is this a reflection of some childhood insecurity – as my psychiatrist friends would say – when their parents never allowed them to get a word in edgeways? Or is this a veiled arrogance that makes them believe the world must sit and learn at their feet even when they know precious little about the subject at hand? Whatever the case may be, there is no denying that very few things infuriate a thinking person more than coming across or having to co-exist with such an individual in his / her immediate vicinity – a fact that is fast becoming the case in most walks of life.


A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing


A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.

Fired at first sight with what the muse imparts,

In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,

While from the bounded level of our mind,

Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;

But more advanced, behold with strange surprise

New distant scenes of endless science rise!

So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,

Mount o’er the vales and seem to tread the sky,

The eternal snows appear already pass’d,

And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:

But, those attain’d, we tremble to survey

The growing labours of the lengthen’d way,

The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,

Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

–          Alexander Pope



Has Najib launched a campaign against UMNO ? More precisely, has the heir presumptive, affectionately dubbed a modern Lord Krishna by his more fervent fans, begun to undermine the UMNO establishment, at the pinnacle of which sits Mahathir and Rosmah

This makes some political sense. Having milked the right-of-centre to the point of exhaustion, the Mahathir is steering towards left-of-centre. Meanings, of course, have changed. As the centre has shifted in the last two decades, ‘right’ and ‘left’ have moved along with it. ‘Left’ now represents populism, rather than ideology. Marx died in the 1990s and even his ghost cannot escape from the effective burial given by comrades Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping.

The sabotage of big-ticket investment in order to fence the tribalUMNO Warlord vote is only part of the developing story. The official catechism describes

Malaysia faces a widening gap between wages and the profits of companies under the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim warned today.

He told Parliament when debating the government’s Budget 2013 proposals that not enough was being done by the Barisan Nasional (BN) government to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia.

The opposition leader claimed household wages remain low and that structured analyses show the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

“This means the economic growth and all the projects announced by BN do not bring effect on the incomes of a majority of the people,” Anwar(picture) said.

He added surveys showed 44.2 per cent of Malaysian households make less than RM2,500 a month, and share only 14 per cent of the country’s economic prosperity in stack contrast to the 50 per cent shared by the top 20 per cent of wealthiest Malaysians.

“The excitement in chasing economic forecast numbers without specific policy reforms to narrow the gap (between the rich and the poor) and ensure even distribution is more evident than ever in the prime minister’s ETP,” Anwar said.

“The analyses and comparisons in economic value made by the ETP projects and wages given to workers show that by 2020 workers will be paid much less in relation to company profit.

“If now, the ratio of wages to profits stands at 28 per cent, under the ETP it is expected to fall to 21 per cent,” he added.

Earlier, Anwar had said the national economic plan should shift from only meeting equity targets and growth to ensuring a minimum household income of RM4,000 a month by the end of a first-term Pakatan Rakyat (PR) administration.

He also said economic growth should be generated by small and medium-sized businesses and not just by “one or two big bosses.”

Speaking in Parliament, the opposition leader pitched his PR’s Budget 2013 proposal to focus on disposal income instead of chasing equity and growth targets.

Pakatan Rakyat leaders vowed to raise their game and take seriously the threats issued by Umno leaders to wrest back two key states – Selangor and Penang.

According to Selangor Umno deputy chief Noh Omar, the BN coalition would wrest back the Selangor government in the next general election by winning 32 of the 56 seats in the state legislative assembly.

“Since Noh has actually com out with a number, PKR and Pakatan will surely take all care to ensure as much weakness and problems are resolved. We will go on red alert in all the states we govern. We think Noh is bluffing but for sure Selangorians have to be on guard because the BN have extra players in their team such as the Election Commission and the police,” PKR MP for Batu Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

Selangor is the richest state in Malaysia and Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the Umno president, has vowed to take back the state by any means possible.

The Pakatan Rakyat federal opposition had captured Selangor during the 2008 general election, a feat that shaken Najib’s Umno-BN coalition to the core. BN now holds only 20 of the 56 Selangor seats.

Warlords out to grab MB’s seat

Nonetheless, while Noh exuded confidence he could not outline how his party could trounce Pakatan.

“I don’t want to get ahead of fate, but God willing I am confident BN will be able to win back Selangor, at least 32 seats,” Malaysian Insider reported Noh as saying on Monday.

According to Noh, who is the Tanjung Karang MP as well as the federal minister for Agriculture, Selangor folk were realizing that the Pakatan parties of  PKR, DAP and PAS were unfit to govern.

He also claimed that it was not necessary for Najib to name who would be the BN chief minister should BN win Selangor, a factor that Pakatan had highlighted was a sure sign that Umno was split, with rival faction jostling for the Mentri Besar’s post.

Noh is among those Umno ‘warlords’ reckoned to be in the chase for the Selangor top job. So too are his colleagues Mohd Zin and the disgraced Khir Toyo, who was the former Selangor MB.

“I don’t want to get ahead of fate, I am still a member of Parliament for Tanjung Karang, but it all depends on the leadership. Most importantly, we move the party machinery to win this state, the question of who (will be) mentri besar is not important,” said Noh.

“In 2008, they (Pakatan) also didn’t know who their candidate for mentri besar was, so it’s better for BN to focus on winning back Selangor.”

More bold predictions in Penang as BN tries to go on the offensive

Meanwhile, in Penang, Defence minister and Umno state chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi also boasted over the weekend that BN would regain the state, the second richest in Malaysia.

According to Zahid, BN would achieve this with a 3-3-3-1′ formula involving Umno, MCA and Gerakan adding three seats each and MIC one seat to their existing 11 Penang state assembly seats. In the 2008 general election, Pakatan dominated 40 of the state assembly seats contested with DAP winning 19 seats, PKR 9 and PAS one.

“We can form a BN government in Penang by a majority of one seat if we achieve this. If the BN component parties work harder I’m confident we can win more state assembly seats here,” Bernama reported Zahid as saying.

Zahid added that Penang Pakatan was now in crisis with PKR leaders such as Deputy Chief Minister I Mansor Othman now realizing that they had been used by the Chinese-predominant DAP party.

Pakatan to go on red alert

Zahid’s comments drew a stinging response from Penang Chief Minister and DAP sec-gen Lim Guan Eng.

“UMNO is now talking about regaining ground amongst Chinese, Indian and Malay voters because there is now a soft blackout of PR leaders on all mainstream media, which will be totally complete come election time. For instance when I revealed my house tenancy agreement in the interests of transparency, some newspapers refused to publish it nor published our requests that BN leaders reveal their tenancy or purchase of luxury homes,” said Guan Eng in a statement.

“UMNO is also confident because they sense complacency amongst PR. The time has come for PR to view the UMNO 3-3-3-1 threat seriously. In this respect UMNO may be correct as our PR Penang machinery is not in full election mode. I will request all PR parties to submit a full report on their election preparation by gearing up for polls in November, even though Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is widely expected to call for elections next year.”

One of the oldest school boy jokes that perhaps unfortunately has lost much of its significance today is the one about what distinguishes superheroes from normal people…. the fact that the former all wear their innerwear over their legwear of course!

Singapore never ceases to surprise me; I still remember the first time I visited the tiny island state in the early 90’s for a month long sojourn that was to be spent between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur – camping outside a university, meeting the best professional services firms in the communications sector, visiting countless tourist spots, spending hours on Changi Beach watching and photographing multiple planes of all shapes, sizes and allegiances, and engaging in long soul searching conversations with the locals about Singapore and its place in the global economy. I particularly remember one conversation that I had had with a taxi driver on my way into town the day I had arrived in the island state…

“Is it true…” my taxi driver asked incredulously, as we travelled down the highway toward town “…that people in India enjoy a lot of public holidays over and above the weekends?”

“Yes, I said” as I continued to look out of the window.

“And does everyone take these holidays?”


“And does one avail of more holidays as well from one’s entitlement at work..?”

“Well, yes…”

“Aren’t you all concerned that you are still a developing nation that needs to catch up with the rest of the world?”

“Of course we are…” I said, not quite sure of where this conversation was headed.

“Then, why do you people take all these holidays? Wouldn’t it be better if you were happy with the weekends and public holidays and worked through all your official holidays instead? That’s what we would do in Singapore la”, he added somewhat conclusively.

I have always found that Taxi drivers around the world have a unique perspective on things and can provide you with amazing insights on the places they live and work – almost like social anthropologists. But here was a gentleman who had a profound and definitive view on my country, a country he had never visited but was simply fascinated by…and in a strange sort of way, I had to admit, he was right. Of course, I didn’t tell him that nor did I tell him about the numerous bandhsrail rokos and rasta rokos that were quite common in India in those days.

And though India has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past two decades, the profound words of the prescient taxi driver have still stayed with me all these years, particularly for the degree of self-awareness and engagement levels he displayed as far as Singapore was concerned.

If only I could be like him…

Over the years, this conversation has come back to me – rather painfully – on several occasions: whenever I have stepped into a restaurant-cum-bar and found a group of obviously college going students who had decided to play truant and drink themselves silly during the day; whenever I have spotted a group of well-heeled women preparing to take out small slips of paper, toothpicks, a bag of counters, and a wad of notes in preparation of their ensuing game of Tambola; and when walking into someone’s home or passing through a busy neighbourhood, I spy a group of elderly people sitting lost in their thoughts – obviously forgotten by their families and society at large, as the world passes them by.


You may very well ask, ‘What problem do I have with people indulging in harmless fun? And of what business is it of me how they spend their time?’

And, while I would have to grudgingly agree with you, I would urge you for a moment to think about whether these people – these teenagers, these young women and the aged – could or should be better engaged? Do these people really have nothing more to offer themselves, their families, their future and their country, at this point in time of their lives?

Whilst we continue to grow in leaps and bounds as a nation, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – challenge that lies ahead of us is to meet the humungous skill gap that confronts us. Studies conducted across 21 critical industry sectors of the Indian economy estimate that the total manpower needs in these sectors over the next decade is in excess of 244mn while the number of people expected to join the workforce during this period is 120mn – thereby indicating the emergence of a very serious supply side problem, if we can’t find ways to adequately embrace and upskill our people in time. In fact, the cumulative number of people actually required across industries during this period is upwards of 500mn.

Every skilled and educated person – man or woman – can play a role in bridging this gap in human capital that the country faces – in either joining the workforce or contributing to the aggregation and transference of knowledge and wisdom from one person (and generation) to another. For while the skill gap may not appear to be such an insurmountable problem to many of us now, it is definitely a problem that we are bequeathing to our future.

So, just for a moment, could I request you to step out of our comfort zones and think of the larger issues that confront us as a nation?



But this was not the case even two decades ago. In fact, when in the mid-1990’s brands like Rivolta from Maxwell Apparel, Calvin Klein and Jockey started to challenge societal conventions and release advertisements and put up hoardings of men (and women) dressed in nothing other than the modern day representation of the fig leaf as a new fashion statement, there was considerable shock and awe all around (and admiration, if the sudden increase in traffic jams of women drivers around areas in Mumbai that sported giant-sized hoardings of male model Inder Mohan Sudan dressed in nothing other than his Rivolta was anything to go by. In fact, it was rumoured and reported that many husbands and boyfriends in those days actually chose to find other routes to their destination when accompanied by their spouses or girlfriends!).

Over the past two decades, the once exciting VIP Frenchie ads have long been left behind as innerwear appears to have firmly stepped out of the closet in most parts of urban India.  Young men and women today rarely think twice about flashing or even flaunting what they wear ‘beneath’ as they walk, talk, study, work, travel, pub, party or sit down at a restaurant. And though the irritating trend of youngsters wearing their jeans so precariously perched that they threaten to drop at any moment, appears to have abated somewhat there is no denying that fashion trends have significantly changed from what we knew in our youth. Though I still shudder at the unpalatable memory of having someone’s unmentionables (and often, much more besides) thrust in my face by my fellow diners at a so-called fine dining restaurant!

So, when I first spied the recent ‘adventure’ of Suresh and Ramesh as they drooled over a 5-star chocolate bar, I couldn’t help but smile at the insight the advertisements carried behind the buffoonery of the two protagonists. Walk into any mall (and at times, restaurants) in metro India today and you will be besieged by the sight of people who have forsaken their jeans, their trousers and other forms of formal or traditional-wear in favour of shorts and Bermudas. Formerly the preserve of children, adventurous young women (remember the scandalous hot-pants of yore?), the bedroom, the gym, the beach or the holiday in general, these two abridged forms of legwear appear to have fired the Indian imagination with people of all ages, sexes, shapes and sizes donning the same and going where ‘no man or woman would go (or like to be seen in) before’.

Is this just a passing fad? Or the start of a serious trend, like the Indian denim revolution, that has changed the complexion of the Indian wardrobe forever? Is it a function of people choosing to look for a breezy summer outfit over a weekend jaunt or as someone remarked, a functional necessity given the incessant rains and waterlogging that the monsoons bring about in most parts of the country?

While one hopes this is not a serious tectonic shift in taste and culture, is it really surprising that once iconic brands like Vimal are facing an uncertain future in the face of our changing social mores?




VIP Frenchie commercials:

Ramesh – Suresh:

Rivolta –


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