August 2017 Thinking practice – Thoughts on everything & nothing – Regularly updated

14th August 2017

Versova Beach clean-up

Afroz Shah, a feted UN Earth Champion once again led a clean-up effort at Versova beach. Our Prime minister has already lauded him for his extraordinary work. Many clean-up efforts have been inspired by his initiative.

In Versova, since the past year 4000 tons of garbage has been collected. The beach was made sparkling clean and again defiled, and has again been cleaned. Afroz is not dispirited by having to do the clean-up act all over again. As a society, we ought to think deeper.

When the dirt and the filth stare us in the face, the first question has to be, “How can we clean up our beaches and public places?” The ultimate question then has to be, ” How can prevent our beaches and public places from getting dirty in the first place?”

In the West, the civic society was grappling with the poor state of animal shelters. Abandoned pets were arriving at a higher rate. The first question they asked was, ” How can we improve the state of our animal shelters?” Then they started probing more and realized that the ultimate question was, ” How can we ensure that people retain their pets in the first place?” Resources are always scarce. Many times, they are better invested at an earlier stage. When people are aided in quality care of pets, that enhances the overall wellbeing quotient. When the pet reaches an animal shelter, you are fixing something that’s broken.

The same is true with the Versova beach or our public places. When we think about pre-empting the dirt we are thinking of intervening earlier in the process and events chain. Raising awareness and creating barriers before the act of dirtying takes place. Creating immediate & long-term consequences for violators & communicating them effectively for pre-emptive effect. Creating a virtuous  & self-reinforcing cycle of positive actions and rewards – social, tangible, intangible.Probing the utility of penalties or social disapproval. Just a few things that need to be thought about.

We must ask the ultimate question, not just the immediate question. That takes some doing.

The Gorakhpur tragedy

Many people, mostly kids have lost their lives in a Gorakhpur hospital. It is difficult to know exactly what happened in the last few days. It is safe to surmise that the unavailability of oxygen cylinders made an already bad situation tip over into becoming the worst-case scenario.

No matter which political party is in power, we can identify organizational realities that played a part. It is in the nature of government bodies to not honour contracts made with non-government players. Inspite of this delinquency on the part of the government, the contracts are lucrative because of scale, margins and recurrence. Palms are greased to obtain them. Non-government players know exactly what they are getting into. There is always a lot of follow-up for pending payments. Once in a while though, somebody decides to not co-operate in the game for whatever reasons. The script breaks down. And all hell breaks loose.

Many things that are supposed to happen on paper never happen on the ground. What is on paper is in itself such a deliberately convoluted process. Consider this. The SOS message about cylinders was conveyed through letters as a part of the formal process. No regard even on paper about what channels to be used in medical emergencies. Shows utter lack of sensitivity to what a hospital is doing – racing against time to save lives.

What needs fixing is looking at how the whole thing is set-up. It is about managing systems. Designing effective processes. Creating accountable structures. Not only about tackling corruption and politics by identifying individual errants and punishing them.

12th August, 2017

Cult of the Great Leader

Be-aware when it is in the making. Wise people say the impact of a leader can be known only years and even decades after the leader has left the scene. That is how long momentous decisions take to pan out in terms of their long-term consequences.

A good leader seems great if he has replaced someone highly incompetent or low-profile. Can we as a society be demanding enough of ourselves; and raise our own standards on leadership so that we identify clearly the difference between good and great?

Even if the leader is great, the best thing a society and a country can do is to be ever alert & critical about governance.

The day you feel you have voted a leader and that’s all – the rest is upto the leader, you have let the leader off the hook. Voting is not a substitute for continued thinking.

To me, the creating of the cult of a great leader is not a healthy development in a democratic society. To the extent  that it deludes people into thinking that everything will be taken care of by the leader – effectively. Everything, definitely not. Effectively, who knows? In the absence of oversight, the judge and jury become the same.

The ruling establishment has its own calculations of course. It is upto the masses to make their own.

8th August, 2017

What matters

A few days back, three kids drowned off the Dadar beach. As these things usually unfold, one got into trouble and cried out for help and more perish in trying to help. Newspaper reports state that many onlookers were intent on capturing it all on their cell phones. One homeless man rushed in to save, even got hold of two kids, but had to let go when a giant wave became too much for him to overcome.

What made this homeless man rush in to help? Utter destitution? He knew what matters & he went for it. Could it be that our material possessions and the ‘settled’ nature of our lives is taking away our sense of aliveness – to know what matters in the moment?

Game of Thrones

The battle between the Dothraki & the Lannisters. Spectacular. There is talk of this being the best battle on the series so far. In terms of the epic factor, maybe. Dragons are going to steal the show. For me, the best battle has been the battle at Castleblack. It is brilliant. There is a sequence that starts when John Snow comes out of the elevator shaft and jumps into the action. The camera steps back and lets the viewer in on the multiple battles raging within the castle. From one skirmish to the other. Superb.

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