Thursday, June 28, 2012

After Harmony and Riots, time for Communal Excellence

Some time back, I was involved in the branding and content development for a group of social activists supposedly committed to raise the bar for Maharashtrian entrepreneurs and business leaders across the globe.

Kudos to the gentleman who has painstakingly conceived the whole idea. It requires grit and gumption to further such causes and his resourcefulness in setting up a foundation team in a short span is worthy of adulation and emulation.

Unfortunately, he seemed more confused than committed when it came to defining the vision, mission and values of the proposed endeavour. As it is, I shy away from movements wedded to parochial causes. In fact, in the case of Maharashtrians, this is a profitable industry in itself - staging seminars and conferences on themes like

"WHY DO MAHARASHTRIANS LAG BEHIND OTHER COMMUNITIES IN BUSINESS"

or

"DO WE PRODUCE FEWER ENTERPRENEURS AND BUSINESS LEADERS COMPARED TO OTHER STATES"


But this one was slightly different in its tonality. It began with the populist premise that Maharashtra is actually a reservoir of business acumen, it's only a question of recognising and rewarding excellence.

Here's an excerpt of the "Brainstorming" with the founder gentleman:

Q. "Whose excellence are we going to recognise? Maharashtrians alone?"

A. "Yes, you are right"

Q. But that would make it highly parochial, won't it?"

A. "Yes, you are right"

Q. So?

A " So, let's include all those born in Maharashtra"

Q. "Then how come you have an awardee who was not born in Maharashtra"

A. "Oh my god! Are you sure?"

Q. (as A) "Yes I am"

A. (After profound silence) "Never mind, we'll say - All Maharastrians who have done Maharashtra proud"

Q. "What does that mean?"

A. "Wait a minute - let's freeze on 'People of Maharashtra'. That's perfect"


The last answer was enough to put an end to the conversation, much to the delight of our friend as his sole interest was to patent the nectar - the churn of the intellectual 'manthan' - in his sole name. Given the dismal level of insecurity, a full stop seemed more attractive to me than a comma. The futile dialogue nevertheless gave me a fair idea of how the actual event would go about:

The "Awards of Excellence" extravaganza saw handpicked dignitaries from politics, business and acedemia orchestrate a one-night stand of mutual admiration, the kind of feel good forums where you can easily make out who'll say what and who'll clap when!

As the hall echoed with the amplified tales of individual glory, pride and triumph, the audience was subjected to a third degree torture in the form of loaded gospels.

Maharashtra's tragedy (read Mumbai's) lies elsewhere. Home to entrepreneurs across the globe, Mumbai has won a place of pride on the global map based on its cent percent cosmopolitan character. It's one of the few cities in the world which welcomes ingenuity, industry and innovation with open arms.

The case is similar to the cricketing genius Sachin Tendulkar. For years together, he has successfully carried the burden of the whole Indian team on his broad shoulders. No cricketer in the world has faced such acute pressure from his own nation. His success is always seen as India’s victory. But when he fails, nobody bothers to put his failure in perspective.

Similarly for years, Mumbai has carried the burden of the entire nation. The influx of multinational companies and other businessmen across India has invariably posed unprecedented competition to native businessmen (both Maharashtrian and non-Maharashtrian). When some of our visionaries succeed, it’s always applauded as a national feat. But when some fail, the focus is always on “who” failed, never on “how & why”. Mumbai's magnanimous gesture has been more abusued than used.

Agreed, but what have we done to check this intrusion?

Most of us have sought pride in serving the establishment as peons, clerks and executives while others have chosen to indulge in empty sloganeering (KON MHANTO DENAAR NAAHI, GHETLYAA SHIVAY RAHNAAR NAAHI - Dare not deny; coz we'll get by) only to fulfill the varied and vested interests of politically motivated communal groups.

Worse, the industrious folks - entrepreneurs, innovators and business wizards - have little time and inclination to introspect on the larger issues of the community. Of course, there are exceptions but they prove the rule more than they defy it.

I sincerely hope the above mentioned group, notwithstanding its ridiculous notions about excellence, will make a positive difference to the Maharashtrian ethos with its pursuit of excellence. Ideal or flawed, it's a movement with some momentum after all!

Having said that, I earnestly hope that it also helps Maharashtrians – whether in Maharashtra, India or overseas - get rid of some of their worst-known tendencies that even success is not known to wipe out....

of confusing education with learning

of mistaking qualification for creativity

of mixing vision with mission

of substituting value by price

of seeking pride in prejudice

of inserting debit when credit is due

of deafening potential admiration by blowing their own trumpets

The list is endless, so is the hope!

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