The dichotomy of Holi

As the colourful Holi greetings flood social media, I am struck again by the dichotomy.   In genteel housing colonies and apartment complexes, families will chastely spread colours on each others faces, children will squirt coloured water from plastic guns and pumps, sweets and savouries will be eaten, and 'thandai' cold drinks that range from innocent to intoxicant will be drunk. It will all end with a wash and a bath in the afternoon. Tomorrow, housekeeping staff will wash and sweep the driveways and lawns but the colours will stain the ground and bodies for a few days more. On the streets and in hostels across India, it will be different. In the streets, children and youth will sneak-attack passersby with balloons filled with coloured water or worse. Lumpen youth and men will smear powder, paste, or worse. Women, preferably young, will be targeted. Voices will be raised, palms and fists will fly. In hostels, the fastidious and the timid will lock themselves in their rooms

When an elder dies

Over the last couple of years, we've lost several elders in the family. Not to the pandemic but to old age. These siblings and cousins were in the same age bracket and after full lives they passed on. In many cases, the passing ended the suffering caused by age related or other illness. How does one react to the loss? When a 80+ or 90+ old dies, the usual homilies of "God give strength to the family" to "Rest in peace" to the relatively new "Om shanti", seem trite. After a full life, the passing itself is hardly a surprise and we accept it as natural. And yet, there is often a sense of unfinished tasks. There are conversations that we should have had, visits that should have been more frequent, gestures that will forever remain unmade. An old African proverb captures this feeling well: "When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground." How true. An elder has seen so much of life just by being there. In today's India that means a life th

Our Salarpuria Sattva Northland problem

We recently bought a row house villa unit in Salarpuria Sattva Northland on Hennur Road in Bangalore. Considering the price and the builder's reputation, we expected good design and build quality.   We were disappointed. Here are some of the concerns. In one of the bathrooms, the builder forgot to provide an opening for an exhaust fan. When we asked, they did an unbelievably shoddy job of drilling a hole through the wall. It is difficult to believe that any builder could be this incompetent. Even after repair, the opening looks terrible.    The hole they made initially   The hole after repair! The terrace is nice. But since there was no canopy or awning, the door was constantly exposed to wind and rain and suffered damage. When we complained, the builder repaired the door but refused to accept that the lack of an awning was the problem. So we had to get one built at a significant cost.  Terrace without awning..   .. damaged the doors

Biki Oberoi and luxury hoteliering in the age of Airbnb

When the prevailing zeitgeist is to adapt to a "new normal", sometimes it is appropriate to let things be because they are just right.  When I met the reclusive PRS 'Biki' Oberoi for my book four years ago, I was aware of the legend. The chairman of the eponymous hotel chain was said to be a fastidious sybarite obsessed with details. At his hotels, bedsheets had to be snow white and the flowers in the vases were measured for length. When I met him, Oberoi was 87 years old and I wondered if reality would match the hype. It did. Biki Oberoi's office insisted I meet him at his farmhouse because of his age. Since a cab would be lost finding the address, they picked me up from a mutually convenient place. A chauffeured limo with a strapping driver, formerly with the President's Bodyguards, took me in stately splendour to the sprawling farmhouse where peacocks roamed the lawns and a white gloved butler served tea. Oberoi met me, a little frail but erect, nattily dr

Language alert - it's death by suicide, not committing suicide

Have you noticed something about recent media reports on suicides? Apart from the alarming rise of such reports, the language has changed. The reports no longer say a person "committed" suicide. Instead they say a person "died by suicide." The change in language reflects the decriminalisation of suicide around the world. In India, the law changed in 2018 when the government notified the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 to say that suicide is longer a crime and that suicidal people need help and counselling, not punishment. So a person does not "commit" suicide as they "commit" a crime. Instead we now use phrases like "took his/her own life" or "died by suicide".

Work-from-home the new normal? Not the way I see it.

Why are we so eager to pronounce anything as a trend on the basis of thin evidence? Take work-from-home, or even more ambitiously, work-from-anywhere in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Really? People in my circle work as engineers, doctors, marketers, journalists, college lecturers, pilots, bankers, company executives, software programmers, and so on. None of them think that work-from-home is anything more than a response to the pandemic. Except maybe the pure software coders, everyone else needs to be out and about to meet customers, students, colleagues, partners, and other stakeholders. No one finds working at home an unmixed blessing. The WhatsApp groups in my apartment complex are rife with people politely asking children to shut the $@&* up since the noise is interfering with work and calls. At least once a week, somebody has a breakdown and you can hear the screaming as stress levels burst. People exchange notes on how to boost internet speeds as man, wife, and the k

The most powerful languages in the world

The new education policy in India (NEP 2020) has revived debate around language. While primary school learning in one's mother tongue has its merits, social activist Kancha Ilaiah argues that children should be taught in English from the beginning since that is the language of empowerment. INSEAD academic Kai Chan's work is relevant to the debate. He has created the Power Language Index to see what language would serve individuals and organisations best. Where should effort and resources be best deployed? Unsurprisingly, English remains by far the most powerful language in the world with Mandarin a distant second. Indians may be happy to see Hindi clock in at no. 10.