Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Perpetual Beta

This is the best description of the city of 'Bangalore'. We entered this mode (earlier we were in "why can't it be like this forever?" mode) approximately 7-8 years ago when construction of the first fly-overs of the city were taken up. Since then, you can not go from one point to another point in the city without having to take a 'detour' because of something being 'under-construction'. Then there is the never ending digging... along the road, across the road, some times criss-crossing too. Once the digging is done, we dig again.

Our city is famous for its 'one-way's. The 'one-way'ness is not new to civilizations elsewhere. Its a definite way to stream line traffic. But, our innovation is a paradigm shift by making them dynamic. Mark some streets as one-way only in peak hours. What constitutes as peak hour depends on the location - there is a office peak hour, school peak hour, cinema peak hour, night club peak hour... and so on. Then the next level of innovation is when let it be a 2-way street for only certain class of vehicles. How many time have we seen such boards - "Right Turn only for BMTC buses", "Cars and 2-Wheelers only", "No Entry for Auto-rickshaws"... Has any body stopped and wondered "Why?". We do not stop at that, 6 months into the one-way scheme, you realize that the road should be running the other way... and so reverse the one-way. Perhaps, we are the only city in the world to have a criss-cross junction on top of fly-over. To top that, we manage it without traffic lights. All in all, it must be said that driving in Bangalore expects (if not ensures) an above normal intelligence.

We call the speed breakers are 'humps'. These can be come in various sizes and shapes. Some of them are intentional, while most of them are badly covered up digging jobs [refer above to know about our favorite passion - digging]. The rule of thumb is that, if the road is devoid and pot holes for about 100 meters, then cars can reach dangerous killer break-neck speeds of 40 Kmph. Hence, we need humps (I challenge you to read the previous sentence without laughing). Oh, humps are a status symbol too. Every politician wants one outside his house - bigger the better. The latest innovation is when humps double up as pedestrian crossing. If the hump does not slow you down, may be knocking a few pedestrians will. There is a process we follow to ensure road safety. First we make the road. And then, we measure the danger of speeding (~50Kmph). If a person is brought to ER during a week's traffic, then there is enough danger to warrant a speed breaker. We immediately deploy one. The next day, 3 more will be admitted since there was absolutely no warning about it. Then a week later, we paint it in white stripes. From then, our road becomes totally safe for travel (~30Kmph). Lovely, aint it?

The latest buzz word is 'encroachment'. This is the seen by the establishment as root cause of all problems - traffic, sewage, crime, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies and what not. In reality, 'encroachment' is a process where the establishment lets a person have its share of bread. When the person makes a sandwich out of it, the all powerful establishment snatches it away. Its fighting immorality with immorality, hoping that two wrongs make it right... I could go on and on... Bottom line - you are never safe when you make the deal with the devil, for it is in its nature to double cross. In another totally unrelated development, the city has come forward to 'legalize' all 'illegal constructions' at a 'nominal' fee. All the words in quotes scare me. A slight extrapolation on any of those fronts - the results are horrendous.

Next set of complexity of living in Bangalore is that places and roads go by more than one name. Most Bangaloreans would not not be able to tell you where is Gen Thimmiah Road, Field Marshall Cariappa Road, Devaraj Urs Road. But they will be more than happy to tell you how to reach Richmond Road, Residency Road or Race Course Road which are the widely known names of the same roads. There is a building by name "Multi-Storey Building". And at least 5 roads that go by the name "Double Road", 2 junctions that are called "Bhashyam Circle". We have a 80ft and a 100ft road (yes, really they are the names). We have Kasturba (wife of Gandhi) Road that joins Mahatma Gandhi Road and Vittal Mallya (liquor baron) Road. Needless to point out that Mahatma Gandhi Road is has the most number of liquor joints. At the end of the day, amidst all confusions, our friendly neighborhood auto drivers will take you to your destinations any where in the city. No hazzles.

All this makes me feel as if we are guinea pigs. The establishment trying new the beta features to see if it works. They want us to be in a perpetual dream of an Utopian city. Well, however screwed up the present it, I am happy that the dream is still on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The ABC of Decision Making

I am not talking about the mundane "Should I fill gas today?" kind of decisions. I am talking about the big ones - "Nine months of labor or adoption?" kind of ones. There are scores of self help books (isn't it an oxymoron - if the book helps, then how is it self help?) written to help you make the right decision. Believe me - they are all useless. But they all exist because the problem with decision making is very real. I am reminded of this little sanskrit shloka (translation attached).
Everyone has to have his own formula to arrive at a comfortable decision. There is no 'one size fits all' formula... Here is what I think works for most of us. Shoot back with rebuttals and alternative paths.

A: Gather inputs/opinions from *all* directions.
Opinions come dime a dozen. Everyone has one. It is the one thing people are ready to give away for free. But who knows, one of them could open your mind into a whole new dimension of thinking. So listen carefully and deeply to everyone. To quote Jason Bourne - "Forget Nothing".

When I say 'all directions', *all* include family, friends, forums, strangers, your alter ego, supernatural powers and so on. For example: Taxi drivers can give excellent feed back on the handling of different makes of cars in city traffic. Your alter ego could stop you from doing anything immoral (according to standards set by your own sub-conscious). Listen to it sometimes.

The *all* excludes anybody who can use the situation against you ;-) duh. Never ask a policeman if it is a good idea to bury the murder weapon beneath the apple tree.

At the end of this phase, you will be more confused than when you began. That is good. It only means that you have found more options than you initially thought was possible. True stroke of genius always takes shape amongst chaos. So don't be afraid.

B: Scrutinize the above collected opinions/options/suggestions/advice
The data collection phase is now over. Its time to churn it to make sense. Now scrutinize every opinion you got. The key questions you have to ask are:

How credible is the source?
Unless you have extra-ordinary reasons to prove otherwise, your alter-ego and all supernatural powers fail this test. Promptly discard their suggestions. Its noise.
Secondly, if a person shies away from accountability and keeps saying 'ultimately its up to you', then you should see though him. On the other hand, if somebody gives you insight into their way of seeing the problem, and hence their way of arriving at the solution, he is more credible. People who can take criticism are generally more credible than those who can not. Stay away from believing a person if he makes blanket statements. We know that world is not in Black and White. Any solution based on such assumption, (in spite of being ideal) is bound to be impractical. Some comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some with pinch, and some with bag loads of them.

Relevance of the advice: Your father may give the best relationship advice. He is very credible and can be trusted to be your best well-wisher. Perhaps, not the best person to ask which college to join or which course to take. In all fairness, it is wrong to ask people for comments on subjects way out of time and interest.

Does the source have vested interest? This is a very key question we often fail to ask ourselves. You should never listen to a insurance agent who gives investment advice. He stands to gain or lose (a lot) when you decide one way or the other. Never ask for marital advice from your father in law ;-). You do not ask a salesman whether to go for 21" TV or a 42" one. It is usually the second layer of friends who can give the most objective suggestions. They are the ones who are emotionally involved, general well-wishers, frank enough to say "I don't know".

Weigh each opinion. Those suggestions that come from 'been there, done that' kind of people should carry more weight than hypothetical (guys who discuss global warming) answers. Obviously, your opinion carries the maximum weight - closely followed by other people whose lives are touched by your decision. Surprisingly, next in my list are that of total strangers. 1. They have no reason to hurt you. 2. Opinions given in a open forum are subject to extensive peer review and hence carry the credibility tag. 3. very helpful in getting a radically different approaches.

Hopefully at the end of these steps, you will be left with a handful of options that can be dealt in a definite order of priority. If they are still too many, you may have to dig deep into each one of them questioning/re-examining every statement.

C: What if analysis
Do a thorough 'what if' analysis on each of your options. Actually if you bother to think about 20 years ahead, it does not matter one bit if you chose this way or that. However, for the peace of mind during those 20 years its better to have some semblance of analysis to backup your decisions. The distance you have to account for in this phase depends on the gravity of the problem. A question like "To run the Mumbai marathon or not?" needs only 3 months of future to consider. A question like "Mainframe job in US or Research at IISc?" could have a 5 year horizon. If you think beyond that, you analysis runs the risk of invalidated by a geo-political event - a war or a deep recession or a unholy treaty ;-)

After all these, you decision *has* to pass through the final test of morality. The standards of morality has never been absolute. It varies from times to time, generation to generation, place to place and even person to person. Nevertheless, it is always better to live with regret of staying moral than the guilt of immorality.

Act. This is as important as coming to a decision. Once you have committed yourself to decision, you must see it through. If in doubt, then do a rerun of ABC without widening the scope. Remember, Not acting is a decision in itself. Hence there is no meaning in coming to a real decision and not acting.

The three 'R's: In sanskrit they say "kAlAya tasmai namaha" (salutations to the all powerful time). Only time can completely determine the fallouts of your decision. Year later, you will usually recall your decision in one of the following ways
Rejoice: You still think it was the best decision and your life is much more happier since then. This is the ideal place to be... Hopefully ABC should lead us there.
Regret: You are happy with the present scenario. But, feel you made a rash decision. Another option could have landed you in a better situation. This is the place where half the humanity currently exists. Everybody feels, they could have done better 'if only...'. However, the luxury of this hindsight is not there at the decision point. People must understand that it is OK to err, as long as they take the best decision possible with the information available at that instant. That is when they will move from Regret to Rejoice.
Repent: The decision has back-fired. Clearly one of A, B or C was overlooked. But that's not the end of the world. There is always another 'R' - Retry. Countries