If something has to end….

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The Blue Marble (NASA)

If something has to end, let it be the notion of greed and haste, so that the world becomes a more balanced place.

If something has to end, let it be the pain and the suffering, so that the world becomes a happier place.

If something has to end, let it be the hatred and the insanity which eliminates the last vestige of rationalism and leads us to a path where the gun becomes the only way to let the frustration out, so that the world becomes a much safer place.

If something has to end, let it be the apathy towards everything, from education to corruption, and the general disregard towards quality, so that the world becomes a lot more valuable.

If something has to end, let it be the fanaticism over religions, so that the world becomes a lot more serene.

If something has to end, let it be the rampant pollution, so that the world becomes a lot more green.

All this, in an ideal world. In a practical sense, however, none of the things mentioned above are likely to end soon. None more so than the world itself which houses them.

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A tale of immorality and a tale of compassion

Two radically different incidences that I witnessed first hand in the last week, both at the very same traffic signal.

Day 1

A conversation between two teenage girls on a bike right to next to mine:

Girl 1 (A reluctant driver of the bike): The signal is red, we should wait.

Girl 2 (An encouraging pillion rider): No need to wait, there’s no traffic policeman around, lets go!

Girl 1 (Hesitating a little): Umm… I don’t know, what if someone catches us?

Girl 2: Why are you so afraid, see that guy there broke the signal too, and no one caught him!

Girl 1 (Convinced by now): Okay, lets go then…..

And they drove off in a hurry. Five seconds later, the signal turned green and everyone drove away, legitimately.

Many times I wish we could use those on-road kicks and punches to throw people off their vehicles, the ones we all had practiced so well in the old computer game ‘Road Rash’.

Day 2

Morning rush hour, around 10:00AM. Our signal went red and everyone stopped. An elderly couple walked across the front of us, the caring grandfather holding the hand of the frail grandmother and guiding her across half of the street. That itself was a sweet picture. Just then the signal at the other end (the oncoming traffic) went green and the cars and bikes launched themselves onto the road. The elderly couple, clearly frightened, retreated and stopped by the side. Just then a Hyundai i10 car stopped in the middle of the road. The driver, probably in his 30s, got out and everyone thought he was about to argue with the auto-rickshaw driver behind him. What happened next took everyone by surprise. This guy walked over to the the elderly couple, caught their hand, and gently walked them over to the other side of the road. The look on the faces of the couple cannot be expressed in words. Presumably, after this the guy got into his car and drove away (I couldn’t see the scene afterwards because our signal had turned green by then).

No relation, no need, yet a sweet gesture. For the sake of that guy’s conscience. It was a sight that I will never, never forget.

Same place, two very different people. Why is the world so strange?

Breaking the menu

Would you go into a Mercedes showroom and ask for a car and a half? The answer is a firm ‘No’, more because it is impossible and impracticable for the vendor to satisfy your request, than it is improbable. The same logic applies to a television set, a cellphone, a t-shirt, a pair of running shoes, bar of soap, a can of soda, a bag of chips, even a pepperoni pizza. All of these items are not just designed to be sold in one piece (e.g. a car) or go together (e.g. a pair of running shoes), it makes no practicable sense for the customer to get just 50% more of that commodity. A restaurant menu is almost always built according to this fundamental law.

There are situations, however, when the law craves to break itself.

I walked into a renowned Chinese restaurant the other day and picked up the menu card for take-away food. In the mood for some delicious ‘dim sum‘, I asked the waiter how many of the dumplings would be included in one plate. He said that six would be the number. With a family of four, ‘six’ would obviously have been an odd figure, so I inquired if he could get me eight instead, and I would pay whatever the charge might be for the extra two pieces. He said that it “cannot be done”, more so because nobody had asked such a thing before, and if I wanted more than six pieces then I would have to pay for two plates.

More than six dumplings, being made one piece at a time, shouldn’t have mattered. It was both practicable and possible. I realized that the issue wasn’t about the dumplings at all. It was about a menu which was fixed by the management and one that everybody else was sticking to without any thought given its contents and how they’re structured in the menu. Eventually, I purchased one plate, and in doing so the restaurant lost the revenue for two dumplings. It might not seem a lot, but a loss is a loss and things accumulate in the long run.

Such situations are an exception rather than a rule, but when money is involved, exceptions matter. Does your product business too suffer from the rigidness of your ‘menu’? If there have been seemingly awkward questions about the same raised by your customers in the past, it might be a good idea to look into the structure of your product list and probably educate the people who are on the front-line in representing your business, i.e. the advertisers and the salesmen.

Con + Science

‘Con’ = Swindle, dupe, deceive, hoodwink.

‘Science’ = The body of knowledge to accomplish it.

Enticing, thrilling and lucrative, albeit only for a short while. Hiding breeds hiding, mistakes breed mistakes. Easy? Not really, especially if you want to strike it big (in all the wrong ways) and still stay away from the bars. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Surprisingly, no, though you would require the following ingredient to recognize this last fact.

‘Conscience’.

Judging yourself. Surrendering to an honest and ethical inquisition. Possessing and utilizing the same body of knowledge and to know whether to go for it or to refrain from it. Thinking breeds thought. Difficult? You bet it is, but it is also more rewarding in the long run. Guarantees you a guilt free, sound sleep at night? Almost always, yes, that is once you pass the initial hurdle of self-denial.

Irrespective of your beginnings in life, and contrary to what some people believe, whether you end up with the former or the latter is not a lottery. More a matter of choice if you ask me, and often it is your choices more than your abilities and talents that show who you truly are.

Background Importance

Try this.

Visit your favorite restaurant and pick a table that’s next to a corner. Sit with your back against the wall so that you have a clear view of the entire restaurant, or at least the part you’re sitting in. Order your favorite dish from the menu and… bon appétit! Repeat the exercise the next day, again picking the same corner table, but this time seat yourself facing the wall instead of having your back against it. Try having the same dish and note your experience.

It’ll almost always be different.

Nothing wrong with the menu though, nor with the company of friends, but the food will feel insipid and the talk over the table will seem drab in the latter instance. The difference? The inflexible and monotonous wall, even when its got a pleasant wallpaper on it.

The difference is in the background.

When user experience is one of the pillars that your business or your life stands on, the background gains unmistakable importance. Ask the travel and hotel management industry for example, or your photographer friend, or even your local bank. Its something that graphic designers think a lot about when they display their craft on internet websites and in television advertisements. Even modern day TV news broadcasts for that matter, and eager journalists reporting from the front-line or the crime scene. The more inviting and sensational the background behind the product you’re trying to sell, higher the chances that it’ll actually sell. Or as a cynic might put it, higher the chances that you might get fooled into buying it.

This phenomenon doesn’t quite apply to some areas, your dentist for example. It takes a lot more than just a soothing background behind the man holding the tiny but dreadful sounding drill in order to make a root canal or a routine filling hurt less. That is, if you are courageous enough to walk the last mile to his clinic.

No Show Today

Perspective in Focus

Kobe (Japan), at almost 2:00 PM on a weekday. Disappointed due to a ‘no show’. Well, that’s just what I thought. For all you know, this person could be resting after a meal, thinking about some job he’s got to do, in a pensive mood about an incident or an event in his life, waiting for someone or something; The possibilities are endless! The interesting thing is that there’s no one ‘right’ answer. ‘To each his own’, to a large extent. Be imaginative, but not vulgar.

The power of perspective is on show here (irony intended), and maybe that’s what every photographer aims at when he / she controls the shutter of his / her camera. Perspective is based upon the things you can see, the things you know of, like the empty stage and empty benches in the picture above. A point in case of being well-informed and having…

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Earth Day 2012: An eye for awareness, an eye for nature

Its often said that our eyes are the windows to our mind and our conscience. What we observe makes us who we are. Or does it?

When we are young, our eyes try and capture every facet of the nature around us, its rivers and its mountains, its forests and its oceans, much like we do through a camera. These images make an indelible impression on our hearts and aid our understanding of the world. As the years roll on we travel far and wide, capture even more such images and try and build a ‘big picture’. Someday, though, we return to our roots and find that the natural elements which held us in awe in our childhood have been corrupted by people just like us and the pollutants that are a byproduct of our existence. Not a pretty thought, is it?

Its rather ironic that we try and preserve the ‘passive’ images we click using our cameras so that we can showcase them for our future generations, yet we fall short of applying the same procedure to the ‘active’ images of the nature captured by our eyes since childhood. Our efforts never seem to co-ordinate when it comes to saving the rivers and the forests which gave us life in the first place. We find it convenient to point fingers at each other, yet fail to gather enough courage to stand up for a social cause or spare some time to lend a helping hand towards preserving our surroundings. ‘Charity begins at home’, they say, so does cleanliness and awareness. If we decide to stand by the purity of the values that nature has taught us over the years, would taking the first step towards a cleaner and healthier environment be so difficult?