Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bubble Theory

"Everyone seemingly has a past & present, but only some are fortunate to have a future." - Skv

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Educated, but Unemployed

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” - Will Durant
I have pondered over this subject for the last few years without reaching a rational conclusion. Surely, the educated peoples of the world are the architects of the future. On the other hand, traditional methods of teaching are unable to hold the fort against a rapidly evolving realm. Let me digress. My manager (a proven professional) lamented on the inefficiencies of fresh graduates. The raison d'être of the theory was strongly (and controversially) backed by the propaganda that tutors (at these colleges) were guilty of being ignorant to corporate norms, and specifically quoting that “lecturers would remain lecturers for the rest of their lives.” A recent introspection by a KPMG consultant seemed to justify the above statement.

It is clearly debatable on the lines of our “tried and tested” mode of education. Professors and lecturers have always been highly regarded in our society for various reasons. The most important thing being that they were the “cream of the crop” on the education ladder. Inarguably, teaching is a highly noble profession, and the stalwarts ensure an important contribution to society. But where are we losing it?

“Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.” - G. M. Trevelyan

Reiterating Mohit Chandra’s article (An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes), the issues with our system have been there forever. Our culture demands unthinking compliance with the orthodoxies set in concrete by our elders (I, for my part, have posed far too many uncomfortable questions to my elders – with due respect). Eventually, the latter part of our collegial education cannot reset the habituation that society had done in our incubation.

Moreover, we have an educational system that has a fixation with process rather than significance, and theoretical explanations over practical insights. We condemn and discourage “thinking out of the box” as riotous. I recently read an article that humorously defamed our communication skills. Our regional languages are important, and every student has to learn his native language. But, we are not China yet and cannot rid English from our diet. I’ve been warned by relatives (thankfully, my parents didn’t think on the same lines) that reading an “English novel” or watching an “English movie” would corrupt my mind.

At the deep end of the rat-race, academics are of highest priority. Students are undermined on the basis of a few test scores and the bigger lessons of attitude and ethics are compromised. Recently, Ernst and Young asked executives all over the world if they would pay a bribe to retain business. Globally, 15% of surveyed executives said they would. But in India, 28% said they were ready to bribe for business (India performed worst).

The headline in today’s newspaper was surprising, but honestly not unexpected. One-tenth of our graduates are unemployed (specifically 9.4% of our graduates & 10% of our post-graduates).

In India, the illiterate are the poorest, and the poorest simply cannot afford to be unemployed, so they do some work, even if they are under-employed, explains a new research.

When faced with a proposition of being unemployed at the end of my incomplete engineering degree, my choices were limited. To get a job; be financially-independent or rue my failures. It meant working shifts, and compromising on watching movies or partying in the evenings, so be it. And I managed to build a career out of it. Eventually the work that I do has no correlation with my four-year engineering degree. The parameters are stipulated; Good communication skills (I sometimes wonder if my language has waned over a period of time), reasoning ability, and a boisterous defiance. The one notable thing with over-qualified folk is that the employment options are narrowed down to a drizzle. A batch mate of mine who couldn’t beat the amazon of examinations decided to start his own firm, and has been highly successful at it (he has started his own web designing/development firm; surprisingly the university didn’t deem him fit for similar academic subjects).

It was highly hilarious to read about the person who had outrageously bamboozled two major corporations over a 5-year stint with forged documents, and worked himself a hefty pay-check. Eventually he did get caught (after marital discord - hell hath no fury like a woman scorned) but the bigger point is that he would have never been hired for these companies otherwise. Talent wasted due to an incorrigible scholastic labyrinth. Education is important, but it shouldn't be restricted to glorious academics. There has always been some other incorporated values that get you further in life. And you can always look so far as a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates to prove that theory right.

“No man who worships education has got the best out of education... Without a gentle contempt for education no man's education is complete.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Indomitable Spirit

"I believe a big club must have the ambition to win with style ... You know, there is a famous saying, that the only way to deal with your life is to transform it into art, every minute of your life. Football is an art, like dancing is an art – but only when it's well done does it become an art. If you see me painting, that is not an art. If you see my wife painting, that is art." ~ Arsene Wenger

When Wenger arrived at Arsenal in the autumn of 1996 as one of the first foreign managers in the English game, he was, inevitably, received with suspicion and bewilderment. Who was this Frenchman with the German name, from the contested eastern borderlands of Alsace, and what was he doing at Arsenal of all places?
Today, He is the club's longest serving manager and most successful, winning eleven major honours since 1996. Wenger also has the enviable record of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in every season (full) since his arrival. In short, he has never fallen short of a top-four finish since ’96. And yet, at the beginning of every season, his critics bay for his blood.

For the first part of his tenure at Arsenal, he built a foundation on defensive strategies. Arsenal won enough trophies, and the manager rightly invested in the youth team (to an extent that some former players termed it “child trafficking”). With younger players coming through, the formation changed to an attacking setup. Over the last couple of years, Arsenal’s style of football has seen a transformation. They are dependent on their pacy wingers, and play direct football. On the negative side, their defensive mechanism has failed them in the past few seasons and they have conceded far too many goals. But, alike the Brazilian team of the past, the ultimate motive in football is to score more goals than your opponent. Although their mainstay players have their headed towards greener pastures, Wenger has managed to rebuild the team at the beginning of every season and drive them towards challenging the better teams in the league.

At the beginning of last season, most Gooners (Arsenal fans including yours truly) were devastated. Two of our iconic stars (Fabregas and Nasri) had decided to move on to better clubs. But, at the end of the season when we finished above Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool (all of them had spent a sizeable amount of money), Wenger proved everyone wrong. He gave the fans the belief that great teams were not built only on the capability of their stars. It was a summation of the team’s efforts. And if the superstars left, someone else would step up to fill their shoes. Eventually, the show must go on.

A survey in 2007 found that Wenger was the only Premier League manager to have made a profit on transfers, and Wenger made an average profit of £4.4 million per season on transfers, far more than any other club. In 1997, he bought Anelka from PSG for a paltry 500,000 pounds and sold him two years later for 23 million pounds. It gave Wenger the money to buy three others: Henry, Pirès, and Wiltord (all of them played significant roles for Arsenal).

Wenger’s philosophy has been simple. No player is bigger than the club (a reason why Arsenal’s wage structure has always been concrete). Wenger has always backed his players, be it injury, criticism or off-color displays. And most importantly, it isn’t the price tag of a player that worries Wenger, rather the value for money that’s linked to that player.

Wenger speaks good English, with a slightly comical accent, has a degree in economics (evident from the way he makes purchases in the transfer market) from Strasbourg University, and, with his interest in sports science, nutrition and physiotherapy, has progressive ideas on how a modern football club should be run and how its players should eat, train and rest. In this age of Moneyball (the film by the same name could have portrayed Wenger for all reason), where billionaires from the Arab nations and the Eastern-Bloc have invested in football teams, Wenger is an old-fashioned tyrannosaurus. His methods might not go well with the new teams of football (the Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s of the world) who prefer to spend at least 100 million pounds every season to win something half the worth. As a manager, (in my view) only Sir Alex is on par with Wenger for building teams and retaining the legacy of their respective clubs.

The essential mystery that surrounds Wenger - the enigmatic and fascination of him - is heightened by his refusal to play the media game or embrace celebrity. While he is always available for press conferences, he never gives long interviews or speaks candidly about personal matters or issues outside football. This is a shame because it means we shall never know him as he really is. Nor is Wenger popular among his fellow managers, who complain about his aloofness. Alex Ferguson once spoke with irritation of how Wenger would never join him for a post-match drink, a cherished tradition at Old Trafford. Yet he is adored by his players, to whom he is unstintingly loyal, never criticising them in public. Arsène Wenger has effected a glorious revolution in England, showing the footballing community not only how the game can and should be played, but also how young men of different races, religions and nationalities can work together harmoniously to create a moral example and vision of the cosmopolitan good life.

“At a young age winning is not the most important thing... the important thing is to develop creative and skilled players with good confidence.” – Arsene Wenger.

P.S – RVP’s departure was always on the cards. For a player who occupied the treatment table for the majority of his stay at Arsenal (most part of his first 6 seasons), and had a reputed in-disciplinary record at the beginning of his career; he has only Wenger to thank for turning his fortunes around. But, Arsene has had the last laugh. Having spent only 2.75 million pounds to buy RVP, he is going to sell him for at least 10 times that amount.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Olympic Dream

“It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.” - Ali

Atlanta – ’96. Termed “the celebration of the century,” we Indians had a reason to celebrate; our first, and only medal, after 16 long years (first individual medal after 40-odd years) at the Olympics. For the 12-year old in me, it was the time to pin-up India’s new poster boy on the wall (accompanying the quartet of Sachin, Agassi, Jordan and Maradona).

Over the next 6 years, the combined force of Paes and Bhupathi inscribed India’s name in the global Tennis community. They faltered at the quarter-finals of Sydney 2000, and narrowly missed-out on a bronze medal four years later in Athens. But the nation held its hope, and millions of Indians pumped fists and celebrated at every point won.

“They played so well as a team that it prompted the then top Australian doubles pair of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge (known as the Woodies) to predict that Bhupathi and Paes would take their place in tennis doubles after they left the scene.” [courtesy wiki]

By 2008 though, it was a plain formality. The chest-thumping, high-adrenaline duo of the past was merely going through the motions on court. Off-court, they the rift widened between the pair as they won trophies with separate partners at major slams. With a fresh coat of paint, the images disappeared from my wall. The image of Abhinav Bindra winning the gold medal in Beijing flourished as Indian tennis wilted at the whims and fancies of two super-egos.

Their record as a team is enviable, a career record of 303-103 and the Davis Cup record of longest winning streak in doubles, with 23 straight wins. Though their personal playing styles are like chalk and cheese, the dynamism of Paes and consistency of Mahesh have allowed them to build their forte. With Mahesh deciding to partner Bopanna for the upcoming games, the AITA were in quandary. And when they intervened, the fiasco has been broadcast as a national shame. A despicable Sania and a clueless Vishnuvardhan added further chaos to the mess.

In 2011, when the pair decided to re-unite on the ATP circuit after 9 years, an Elton John song propagated through the back of my head, “the candle in the wind.” And, even though they lost in the finals of the Australian open, sparks of the previous magic reignited from their wands. But it was too good, and quick to be true. From bad to worse, the saga continued till the point of annihilating a world-class team for the 2012 Olympics.
Is it fame that empowers the stars of our country to consider themselves invincible and above the nation’s interests? Or, infantile reservations that clutter the thoughts of these superstars? Both of them are at the dusk-end of their careers and the path they chose might not necessarily reciprocate the achievements of the last decade. But, if they choose to join hands for one last time, it might provide hope of a long-lost dream, an Olympic dream.

“My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back.” ~ Unknown.