Through The Looking Glass

He drove by with a wave, rolled down the window and asked,”Kavi?” In an inchoate two minutes, I was seated settled in the comfortable car with his words “I’ll get you to the airport. Nice and safe” to soothe me.

#SHRM18 had just wound down to a close and I was tearing myself away from the comfortable confines of McCormick Place in Chicago.  Salim (name changed ) was my Uber driver.

Uber drivers who indulge my need for conversations are special.  Speak to a few of them in a city, and you can map whats on the city’s mind. The chat reduces the distance and as a bonus, I get to know another human being. What is a platform transaction morphs into a human interaction. A connection established by stories and sharing.  The interaction with Salim was one such.

We chatted about the economy, immigration, life in the USA and India. And this elusive thing called ‘home’. And much else.

He told me about his home in Palestine and of his long trek to Jordan where his parents stay.  And the longer trek to the US more than two decades ago.  His voice swinging from excitement to despair with seamless ease. Like shifting lanes on an empty road.

The man had studied law in Jordan, ran a restaurant for fifteen years in the US before taking to be an Uber driver. He loved law. But couldn’t practice law in the US. To be able to do so would require his going back to law school. Which would set him back by several thousand dollars.  He had made his peace and he saw his future in driving trucks. He had applied for a license and he was due to get it shortly.

For a while, he spoke of the opportunity in truck driving. The lucrative nature of it all and the lifestyle he would be able to afford his kids. Plus the effort and investment required to get there. He sounded like a monarch who awaited coronation the next day.

After a while, in a manner of conversation, I asked him if he had heard of unmanned trucks. His face donned a dismissive hat.   As I explained to him all that I knew of the experiments with self-driving trucks, the dismissive smile morphed to have a ring of disbelief and distress.

An uncomfortable silence filled the air and as a red light stopped the car in front of us, he turned around, faced me and asked, “What will happen to all the jobs?” His hurting tone and halting words were making me guilty. I realised. Before I could say anything else, the man held the steering with one hand, looked ahead and spoke into the windscreen.

“Technology is good. But it can hurt and the people who make the technology must also be aware that it can hurt. Even as we make technology to take us forward we must build boundaries for it. We have to be aware of the not so obvious consequences also. We have to make wise choices”

“Someone must speak and think for the countless who don’t have a choice or an option. The rich and the privileged cannot be the sole inheritors of the future. Every generation must have an opportunity to compete and create a new future.”

I wished I could have recorded all that he said, even as I scribbled notes on a random piece of paper.  I wished the ride was longer as my glass window showed the busy environs of O Hare beyond it.

He parked got out of the car, opened the trunk, took the suitcases out and said, “thank you for listening”. For a brief moment, our eyes met, as I nodded and wished him well. His Uber app announced a new passenger and took with it a few things he had to say. I will never know what his closing comments were! The ‘here and now’ urgency of the platform economy will keep him going for a while, I thought, as I saw the car disappear amidst other arrivals and departures.

A while later, I sat at the boarding gate mulling over our conversation. Just that morning Sheryl Sandberg had given a tip about asking “What are you not working on”. It was a powerful idea, which leads me to think the awareness we have about what we don’t discuss enough about.

Disruption and innovation, lead only from a ‘profit’ / ‘valuation’ centric mindset are half-baked. Unless growth is inclusive all disruptions will eventually be disrupted.

As I awaited boarding, I realised, these conversations are not fool’s errands. We need to ply our minds better. Again and again. And again.


The Iron in town !!

Of the many businesses that you see on wheels, here is one that i don’t get to see that very often in Mumbai ! Wearing pressed clothes is indeed a pressing requirement ! And how about a ‘presser’ on wheels !

In the southern districts we have this push cart iron. The chap who ‘irons’ , ushers his cart around and presses your clothes for a fee ! A common sight in Madurai ! Its not common in the big cities where electricity rules and ‘powered’ irons press !

So, theres this chap who comes home pushing his cart around. He carries with him a simple soul. And will charge your a rupee to press shirt. Perhaps two. And he has a cart which consists of a ‘bed’, a solid stone slab for keeping this solid brass iron and a slot for storing his coal !

And Yes. He uses coal !

Now that’s some heavy duty metal ! It indeed is heavy ! The chamber that houses burning embers of coal sometimes look downright scary. With a feisty burning crimson ! And when he presses your shirt, with the might of this muscle, the crimson coal and the hardened metal, you can almost hear your shirt squirm !

Call me old fashioned. Call me backward. But, there is a certain charm in this cart. And in the iron. The iron that houses the crimson coal that can kill either with the heat or with the weight ! And of course, the lazy elegance of his pressing of clothes. A ‘lazy nonchalant elegance’ that would get David Gower some company.

It may be a common sight down there! And it indeed is something to experience. To just stand there and see your shirt pressed with a rather different energy !

A charm that resembles a old world locomotive that is gushing into a station ! Perhaps its to do with the coal. Perhaps its got to do with the heat. Perhaps it is do with the steady solid style.

Or just perhaps, its the nostalgia of the old times. Or of another place.

Where ‘pressing’ gets a languid tone.

Pedal Strength – Part 1

Atlas. Hercules.

The first one walked around with heaven on his back. And the other destroyed dangerous monsters. Both popular for strength and valour.

Greek mythology is as far away from me, as far as nation development in a politician’s agenda. Ok. Perhaps not that far. I know who Atlas and Hercules are.

But hey this post is not about politics. Or mythology. But of bicycles ! If you are from India, chances that you are aware of Atlas and Hercules as bicycle brands are far higher than knowing them as mythological strong men.

The Atlases and Hercules es doing the rounds on Indian roads are a sight to see. Mythological strong men would arch their eyebrows in respect ! For the Atlases & Hercules of today carry everything from Crackers to Pappad to Milk to anything that you name.

In the slightest of possible spaces they make their way, in the busiest of roads. These are not fancy cycles used by people with ‘environmental friendship’ as a credo. ‘Saying save the world’ that with a fancy helmet and a T-Shirt to that effect.

No. This is part of everyday mainstream living ! That these wheels will have to be pedalled so that the wicker at home is lit. That a kid goes to school. That there is roti to eat. (Ok. Rice too).

To see an Atlas or a Hercules pass by with all their load is often a salute to ingenuity. To innovation. To the spirit of labour. And of course, to the reality balancing a life on two wheels.

Atlas may or may not have shrugged. But he sure does balance life on a pedal ! God knows for how long !

Paper Power !!

As a society, we are master innovators. And we can teach a thing or two to the world about recycling. Newspapers used as a a duster, impromptu seat cover, bed sheet etc is common place.

This gent has the newspaper folded in to his back pocket. Please desist from interpreting it as some kind of symbolic placement making a statement on the quality of current day journalism : By placing it in the rear !

No. No. Our newspapers kick ass.

Really ! Just try reading one. Any one !

This gent is all set to unfold his newspaper as soon as he gets to a bus station, lay it out on dusty seat in the bus shelter and sit down. And because his rear isn’t going to take a whole lot of paper, he can exercise choice to continue reading other sections of the newspaper which are not obscured by his rear.

Like global parliamentary proceedings. And going by what transpires in the parliaments of the world, increase his ‘general’ vocabulary and better understand techniques of martial arts!

Actually, the list around innovations with newspapers is endless. I invite you, dear reader, to share your experiences as well !! Well, tissue paper shortages are well chronicled. So lets not go there.

Kavi’s Musings had commissioned a research on ‘top of the mind supplementary use of the newspapers’. This was an in-person impromptu research conducted on very heavy recyclers. And here are the results.

Top areas of newspaper recycle are :

a. ‘Garbage Collection tray’ lining

b. Wrapping of take aways in restaurants & making of paper plates

c. Making a statement to the neighbours on recycling ( Goes well with a Greenpeace T-shirt)

d. Making a statement to the neighbours & colleagues ( Carrying Business newspapers in your hand. And bringing them back home. Without reading)

f. Floor mat on trains when you travel long distance without a confirmed ticket

g. To be put to use on / by children for a multiple set of uses. ( Art from Waste,Sketching, Erasing, Tearing up to kill boredom etc )

h. To be used as a fly swatter on flies & other pests. Used for the same purpose on irritating, irresponsible, ‘Humvee’ riding husbands !

The survey respondents were told that the results to this survey was to be kept completely confidential. Any resemblance to any person, real, digital, living or dead is purely, well, almost co-incidental !

So, go ahead. Please feel free to share. What else can people do with their newspaper !?!

Yes Our Can !

Visiting a family that i often visit, i have to use the toilet a.k.a washroom in ‘developed’ circles. Marveling at the body’s engineering processes, which somehow sense proximity of clean toilets, to alert the urges, i enter !
It was a super clean and neat place. It continues to be so. To this day ! And there, just as i am using the pot, in a corner is this green can. ‘Castrol’ it says ! (You know Castrol dont you?) And of course, it is filled to the brim with water and apparently, part of mainstream usage !

Surely, Castrol didn’t pay this family for strategic brand placement in the washroom! It is just another can that was being put to the best of reuse and recycle ! Millions in India do this.

Every rural morning sun sees people walking the fields with cans that say ‘Castrol’ or “Servo’ or ‘Asian Paints’ *** etc ! They held lubricants, oil, paint when they moved out of the factory. But in their recycled avatar, they are usually filled with water. And comes in handy for porting water…you know…for all what water comes in handy for.

Sometimes they help in porting garbage. Cleaning Autorickshaws. At other times they are cow feed carriers. At yet others for brewing illicit hooch!! And of course, they are used by the Public Works Department in perennial road building activities as well !

And why not….

I presume these cans are made to the strictest Seven Sigma quality ( Six Sigma standards + one sigma extra for all the noise made about Six Sigma ). Made by the best of engineering minds, out of the best material possible and sport colour combinations chosen by brand consultants ! And of course, come to production only after exacting quality checks !

I turn to the green Castrol can in the corner. This time around, i look at it with higher respect. And i wonder, how my reactions would change, if i worked for Castrol. Would i run my finger affectionately on the can, and say, with a Obama like thud, ‘Yes ! Our Can‘ !?!

I finish up what i came into the toilet for. And then, i cast one last respectful glance at the green Castrol can and with imagination running riot about a mob of Castrol users shouting ‘Yes Our Can’, i look at it a little more intently.

I spot a sticker on it that reads : ‘Its more than oil. Its liquid engineering’ !

It all comes together ! A light bulb glows somewhere. Suddenly, brand placement seems appropriate ! Pot on !

(*** Castrol, Servo and Asian Paints are common examples going by my mind share and corresponding assumptions of visibility in toilets / washrooms. They are not quoted here out of personal association / spite / liking etc. Ok !?! )