Friday, May 29, 2015

What is your gender? Forget it... You won't understand!

What is your Gender?

I have travelled to about 30 countries, every country has its own uniqueness but for me Thailand stands out as the most incredible country. When I tell someone that I travel to Thailand once a quarter on work, I can see a sarcastic smile on their faces. The smile translates as - "ya ya we know everyone says they are on business but we know what you guys actually do there." They are obviously hinting at multifaceted sex trade that happens in Thailand. That is the first and most obvious connotation for Thailand. I plan to write a series of blogs that explore some lesser talked about facets of Thailand which transcend beyond sex.

Once I was having a casual over the drink discussion with a group friends about 10 years senior to me. They were talking about their children and their lifestyle etc. The point being discussed was would they be open to a non-Indian daughter-in-law. After a big discussion they turned to a friend who was quiet till then. He said ,"My son is still quite young but I would be happy as long as he marries a girl." This remark effectively put things in perspective and concluded the discussion.

Come to think about it, all of those who have straight sexual orientation and who consider themselves as liberal, open people with global mindset, are able to envisage overcoming the boundaries of caste, religion, nationality or even race but I suspect most of them would struggle to overcome gender bias. Add to that, trans- genders or those who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery (SRS) and they will really be stretching themselves beyond our limit.

My impression is Thailand is the only country in the world where public acceptance of trans-genders is extremely high. Dance shows of trans-genders are main tourist attractions. But outside the show they can walk on streets without being stared at. Lady-boys who opt to work out of sex industry can be easily found in restaurants working alongside usual waiters. From what I see they are easily visible on public places and seem to carry on with their life without any social exclusion. I also read a survey which mentioned Thailand as the capital of sex reassignment surgery. Global transgenders travel to Thailand to get their gender reassigned to their feelings. I am not sure whether the acceptance of trans-genders has lead to Thailand capital of SRS or vice versa but one thing is sure that trans-genders find themselves less excluded from the society in Thailand.

To see if my impression is correct I browsed through wikipedia. I was amazed by what I read. Kathoeys or lady-boys are a distinct section of Thai society. They are found not just in entertainment industry but also business and fashion industry where they play leadership roles. One can find job posts where Lady-boys or second kind of women as they are officially called are preferred over other candidates since they are perceived to be more charismatic and expressive. Even more tangible evidence of their acceptance is a few institutes like Ching Mai Technical Institute have a special toilet for Kathoeys since 2004. Thailand is also one of the few countries who recognize third sex on official documents.

It is very hard for straight people to understand but there three underlying dimensions of our sexual identity - gender role, gender identity and sexual orientation. For rest of the world gender question is digital but in Thailand it is analogue.

In our generation, we have crossed racial boundaries perhaps gender boundaries is our next paradigm.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bombay meri jaan! (Mumbai, my sweetheart)

After staying in quite a few cities across the world I got a chance to stay in Mumbai for couple of weeks. I realized once again that this the city I admire the most, despite all its inadequacies. This city has inspired a lot of writers, poets and film makers who have portrayed different aspects of this city. The Movies explore hidden aspects of life, relationships and motivations of living here. There are various songs composed just about this city. I don't know of any other city which has received such creative attention. Resilience of this city stands out across all the natural calamities and foreign attacks this city has witnessed. I never thought I would find something to talk about this city which I haven't heard of before. But as surprising as it may sound, I did, from management point of view off course.

[caption id="attachment_1120" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Crude but effective tag! Crude but effective tag![/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1119" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Enterprenurial instinct at its best! Enterprenurial instinct at its best![/caption]

In this city, it appears as if everyone has a plan. Everyone has figured out what they want in life and they are running after that. Whether rich or poor, men or children, immigrants or locals everyone seems to be clear about their dreams and way to reach there. That's why everyone is in a hurry. Once I was at a bus stop and a beggar approached me. Usually, I avoid paying them anything but this time I thought of paying him a small tip. I took out my wallet, as usual all coins from different countries were mixed in my wallet, I took a while to find Indian coins. As I picked it up to offer it to the beggar, to my surprise he was gone. Even a beggar didn't have time to wait to get his alimony. Even he was clear about who his potential donor was.

Mumbai is also oozing with entrepreneurial instincts and ideas. I met up Prashant a shop-keeper. He has a shoe shop barely enough for him to sit. He uses the vertical area as display. When I was buying a pair of slippers, I noticed something unusual. He had some chillies and lemons in front of him. Usually people use a string of lemons and chillies to protect from evil eye. I asked him what was that all about.

He replied that there was a small temple right in front of his shop. He saw people buying the lemon-chilly string every Saturday. Some customers started asking him if he had them. Thats when he started stocking them. Soon he integrated backwards and started making them in his spare time. He developed some specialization by using an ingredient that wasn't easily available. Soon he got a loyal client base. In due course, the temple shifted elsewhere but due to his specialized ingredient the customers kept coming back. And he runs two unrelated businesses concurrently from same premises. What an amazing entrepreneurial story!!! I accidentally stumbled upon this. Imagine if one starts hunting for such stories, there were would be stories galore.

Also realized that this city is extremely meritocratic. Its the work you do, the value you add that counts not your age or years of experience. You find many young entrepreneurs who do well in this city alongside oldies who are doing same thing year after year. In my recent trip, I was staying at a local no-star hotel. I called the reception and asked for my laundry to be picked up.
The receptionist said , "Theek hai sir. Ladake ko bhej deta hu" (Ok. I will send my boy)
After 5 mins there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and was surprised to see a man on the side of fifties on my door to collect the laundry. I was expecting fresher, younger person who might have just joined the hotel to do this job. But I had an elderly person at my door. He couldn't be called as a "ladka" or boy by amy stretch of imagination.
I asked,"Ladka busy hai kya? Aap aaye ho" (Is the usual laundry-boy busy?)
He said ,"Nahi sir. Mai hi ladka hu. Abhi abhi aaya hu chhota mota kam karana padata hai, Paisa thik hai par log ladka ladka bulate hai" ( No. I do the odd jobs here. They pay me well but call me a "boy" despite my age.)
Since he was doing low skilled odd jobs, it was only appropriate that he was called a boy - a beginner - despite his age. It may sound harsh but meritocracy is another name for harsh world.

Another thing I noticed is although this city appears chaotic, it runs on smartly designed, efficient but crude looking systems. Dabavalas and their six sigma process is legendary but every small business also has its own system. I used the laundry facilities in the same hotel. I guessed that many hotels and shops have a common vendor to do the laundry. Obviously, on a daily basis hundreds of clothes would be collected from various pick-up points, brought to central location, washed, ironed and sent back to respective pick-up points. All this should be done without any error ie I should get back all my clothes and should not get anybody else's clothes. I was quite curious to see what system they follow. Do they have any RFID or bar code or at least some computerized records? Well, its neither of these three. I discovered a small tag which was an inexpensive, custom made but an unsophisticated tag. This custom tag contained the entire information about the origin of the piece and the batch size. This simple looking tag eliminated any possibility of an error. The system looked very unsophisticated but it worked. I imagine that this whole chaotic looking city works on such crude but effective systems.

I spent just a week in this city and learnt so much. No wonder poets who live here sings its praises - yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!! (This city is my sweetheart!!)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Invitation to download my first e-Book for FREE - A Launch offer for a limited time

whydoindian scover

Why Do Indians Kindle Version


Dear Readers,

It gives me immense pleasure to share my first published book with you. It is a milestone in my writing journey and was possible only because of you. It was here that I discovered and practised the art of writing. Your readership and conversations gave me the confidence and courage to take this milestone step in my writing journey.

My book "Why Do Indians..?" is dedicated to "All my international friends who asked me difficult questions Those innumerable blog readers who appreciated my answers" !

As a token of my gratitude, I am offering a FREE download of my book to all of you.

To do so,

1. Please login to your amazon account and check your Digital Content Settings ( -> Your account - > Digital Content setting -> Manage Your Content and Devices)
2. If the country settings are Singapore or Malaysia, you may have to change them to a country other than these two.
3. Start your kindle device. If you do not have a kindle device, please download kindle app on your smartphone or tablet.
4. Search for "Why do Indians..?" in your kindle device or in your kindle app
5. Download my e-Book free till Tuesday 19th May 2015.

Do read and convey your feedback via amazon reviews.

Yours sincerely,
- Vivek

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Parenting The Parents

Sometime when you are 40-something and your parents are 70-something, the role slowly reverses. You need to bite the bullet and become a parent of your parents. They start asking for your opinion or help in things they could easily do before. They start acknowledging that your life is a lot difficult and fast paced than theirs and that what you are doing would have been difficult for them to do. Their illogical behavior may surface and they may resist things that are slam-dunk. These are some of the signs that you are entering a Parent-Your-Parents phase.

One of my cousins had jokingly told me a secret formula of dealing with parents. He said, “If your dad is 75 years old, that is just his physical age. To know his mentality, you have to minus his age from 90. So your dads mental age is 15. Expect him to behave like a teenager” :)

I had forgotten all about this conversation till I got a chance to stay with my parents for a few weeks all by myself recently. It was a refreshing yet eye-opening experience. I learnt a few things along the way.

Like teenagers look up to their parents, your parents secretly look up to you. They may resist your suggestions, they may challenge you but they still need you. They need you to understand their concerns and make decisions for them. They may tell you where their comfort zone ends. In things beyond that zone, you need to assume higher responsibility of their welfare. They realise that the world has changed and their methods do not work anymore. So they need someone to lean on, who could be better than someone who is a part of their soul.

They want you to listen to them like you would listen to your school going kid. Just like your kid, whatever they say may not make much sense to you but you still got to listen with a lot of interest. In both cases, whatever you hear may be completely illogical but you still got to ask those leading questions “Oh really, what did you say then?” than dismissing the story off-hand.

Like pre-teens they want you to be around even if they are doing their own thing. They may not talk to you, they may not look at you but they are happy that you are around. They want you to look at them doing things, wait for them, drive them around, extend a helping hand.

Like kids doing their homework, they want to do things their way – right or wrong. They are not interested in your online bill payments – they want you to stand in the queue and pay that telephone bill in cash. They are not interested in looking at bank balance online – they want their passbook filled up. Period. Don’t try to tell them their method is wrong. Like kids, they would never agree. It has to be done their way. And that’s it.

Boys and Girls need attention. Men and Women need respect. Parents need acceptance. As they head to the sunset, they want to hear that their life had some meaning. If they had made some mistakes, they want you to be magnanimous and say its OK. If they had any missed opportunities, they want to hear that you did just fine without those.

Happy parenting your parents!!

(Originally published on