Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Up in the Air

“If you have 150 million or 160 million children who don’t go to college, what is going to happen to them 10 or 15 years from now?” asked Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education. “The demographic dividend will become a demographic disaster.”

- quoted in The New York Times this morning

Mr Sibal, let me put the opposite question to you. What happens if 160 million children DO go to college? Another demographic disaster, if we continue to define 'college' as it is today.

Let me give you a small example. The Indian Express carried this poignant piece a couple of days ago:

Maharashtra AHA moment: ‘Tribals don’t fit aviation bill’

About three years ago, every time an aircraft flew over Pen in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, children in the tribal village would look at it and say Bharti Sheed, one of their own, was on it.

It was a matter of pride for the community as Sheed, 24, had made it to the first batch of a course specially designed by the state government for the tribal community at the privately run Air Hostess Academy (AHA) in Pune. And even though she was still pursuing the course then, she was already a star for her community.

Three years on, those dreams have rudely crash-landed for Sheed and more than 100 other tribal youngsters who had joined AHA. None of the students who passed out of the first batch of the course in 2008 or the second one a year later has got any aviation jobs.

Following a lack of response from airlines to students who passed out of AHA, the government has now scrapped the course.

Commissioner for Tribal Development D S Rajurkar goes on to say...

“They are not physically appealing and because of their strong local accent they are not good communicators too. I had met (Civil Aviation Minister) Praful Patel to push for jobs but nothing concrete came out of it”

On the bright side, many girls have got jobs - in the hospitality sector. But, they feel cheated because sarkaar ne unhe ek bada sapna dikhaya. A job with glamour, a chance to move into a new social and economic circle.

And that dream has crashlanded.

The point is: As more and more Indians get a 'higher education', their aspirations rise. Even if I have done engineering from Jhumritalaiyya Institute of Technology, I see myself as an engineer in Infosys.

Is the economy and the job market growing fast enough to fulfil these aspirations? Not by a long shot.

Yes, there are jobs but according to the Ma Foi Employment Trends survey, the top three sectors creating these jobs in the near future are as follows:

1) Healthcare (283,000 new jobs on a total base of 3.6 million workers in this sector)
2) Hospitality (137,000 new jobs on a total base of 5.9 million workers in this sector)
3) Real Estate (136,000 new jobs on a total base of 730,000 workers in this sector)

Real estate is seeing extremely highest growth, thanks to the sundry infrastructure and building projects across the country. But when I met Santosh Parulekar of Pipal Tree Ventures, a social enterprise which trains disadvantaged youth to work in the construction industry, he was blunt.

"Our brochures show pictures of exactly what is steel fixing and bar bending - it is a field job. Otherwise, boys join and then drop out saying they don't want to do this kind of work."

This, despite the fact that placement of Rs 6000 p.m. is guaranteed, the fee is nominal (taken from the student only when he starts drawing salary) and there is opportunity for growth.

But even an 6th class dropout has a picture in his mind, about what kind of job he wants.

The vast majority of India - thanks to higher education - want naukris in air conditioned offices. Jobs with 'officer-like' qualities.

Working on computers.

Shifting papers.

Supervising someone else.

Nothing wrong in wanting, but there just aren't enough such jobs. It's a mismatch of skills with requirements; expectations clashing with reality. The problem exists right at the very top - in the IITs and IIMs. And extends all the way down to the grassroots.

So, what can be done? Well, yeh expectation ka virus aaj ki hawa mein hai. Like dry grass, the young 'educated' person awaits the baarish of opportunity.

The least we can do is refrain from lighting a matchstick and setting off a forest fire.

Instead of pushing tribal girls into aviation, can we motivate them to take up nursing? Because it is estimated that India needs one million nurses.

But certainly not more than a few hundred air-hostesses.

Instead of offering MBA (Finance) to all and sundry can tier 3 bschools be practical and stick to Sales and Marketing? Because every kind of business needs salespeople.

But only a handful require investment banking.

Minds can be moved, attitudes can be changed, students can be gently nudged in the required direction right from school.

Let us communicate that 'ITI' or diploma holders are no less than those with 'degrees'.

Let us make vocational courses a real, alternative career track and not just for have-nots and 'losers'.

Let us not wave around pieces of paper with acronyms printed on them and feel pride in our 'educated' status.

What matters is the skills you have, the ability to contribute and become a valuable member of the workforce, Mr Sibal.

Not merely attending 'college'.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What were you thinking?

hii dis is xxx...i m frm xaviers..studying in sybmm.. i m looking for placement.. plz let me knw if der r any...i hav sent u my resumare...plz hav a look at it...

This is a real email.

I swear.

I want to meet this kid.
I want to meet her and ask,"What were you thinking?"

Why did you join a mass media course anyways?

Because it sounds cool, better than doing just a B.A.

Because it sounds like you are on a path to 'somewhere' and maybe, in a good year, you might even land a job.

Of course, the poor sod who employs you will wonder "What were you thinking, St Xavier's?"

Can you at least pick people who can read and write English ?

Can you ensure that two years into the course they are aware of basic etiquette when addressing a prospective employer?

Can you drill into their heads that even though there is Google, real journalism is about going out there - on the street, on the beat.

Media schools, can you teach your students that being a journalist means paying attention to details.

Like recording interviews, whenever possible.

Taking care to quote people correctly.

Doing your basic homework and then asking for inputs.

Think, before you send off an email asking an expert to practically do your job for you.

Please revert me back with your ideas... We will appreciate if you write the story along with me.

"What were you thinking, young journalist?"

Ah, but you never knew journalism involved thinking.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Sugar free matrimonials

While glancing through the Sunday papers, I noticed this interesting new concept launched by The Times of India called 'Equality Matrimonials'.

The tagline: "Because marriage is an equal vow between two individuals. Not two families."

Yeah right. And this is not India, it is Utopia.

Still, for what it is worth let me take you through the "Equality Marriage Contract" drafted by them. Which - they hope - brides and grooms advertising under this column will sign.

Metaphorically speaking, I guess

Equality Marriage Contract
(remarks in italics below each point are mine)

Manifesto for equality in marriage

The HUM = TUM matrimonial column is for prospective brides and grooms who believe in a democratic marriage - a coming together of two individuals who value freedom of choices including those of parenthood, family and household responsibilities, social interactions and career-related decisions, as follows:

1. Personal preferences including those related to dress, food and hobbies will be respected, with no pressure from in-laws or relatives.

The wife can respect the husband's ponytail, and the husband can respect her thunder thighs in a mini-skirt. But what in-laws and relatives say or do is hardly in their control!

2. The couple would share the responsibility of caring for each others' parents - while each would remain the primary caregiver for their own parents.

Eh.. means we buy a 4 bedroom house and your dad and my mom can stay with us. But you make sure you have dinner with your own mom?

3. Both partners have an equal right to pursue - or not to pursue - a career and play the role of primary breadwinner. Either one could follow the other's decision to relocate home as per career movement.

Hee hee ha ha.

4. If both choose to work, responsibility for child rearing and home management will be shared equally.

Hee hee hee hee ha ha ha ha.

5. Together, the couple will resolve to overcome attempts by extended family to interfere in their key life choices. eg whether and when to have a baby will be decided only by the couple, not by parents and other family members who will not comment on, goad or influence the couple.

Note: When you have that Big Fat Indian Wedding with chaar peedi ke rishtedaars make sure to give some duct tape along with the mithai ka dabbas!

6. The bride does not 'leave her home' to merge seamlessly or fit into her in-laws scheme of things, she now has another home that she might choose to call her own in addition to the home she comes from.

'In-laws scheme of things'? Thy copywriter doth see too much Star Plus, methinks.

But seriously.

The 'contract' does address some key issues leading to breakdown in marriage today. Possibly, those advertising under this section will not be confronted by grooms who look 'well educated' on paper but belong to the caveman mindset.

I recall the kind of guys my cousin - an MBA and working girl - met through the matrimonials. There was a particularly memorable fellow who said,"You can continue to work but... make sure you get home before me".

Which meant approximately five o'clock. But it's really a blessing in disguise when people with such expectations say it upfront! And conversely, people who advertise in 'Equality Matrimonials' believe both spouses can kill themselves at work.

"Equality in high blood pressure, it is my birthright."

Sorry about the PJs, but you can't take this 'contract' seriously. Equality is an imaginary concept - like finding Blue Aliens Who Use Their Tails like USB Sticks.

Apples and Oranges cannot be equal. They can only exist in a fruit basket in a spirit of mutual respect and enjoy each other's fruitiness.

That's a good marriage.

The trouble arises when the Apples squeeze the Oranges. And when the whole world extols the virtues of being Orange Juice.

Let me say here that the principle also applies in reverse. Apple does not get the respect it deserves, in the pantheon of Juice. It must be strong, because nobody appreciates an apple gone phusky.

Here's a challenge. Show me one woman who is so career-oriented that she and the husband will actually sit down and discuss 'which one of us will continue working after the baby'.

OK, maybe there is one, but show me ten. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

A majority of women will cite motherly instinct as a Supreme Right. One which precludes busting their butts to be the 'primary breadwinner'.

You get my point, I hope.

And at the end of the day, the things we want at 25, are not the same as at 30, or 40, or 50. So any 'contract' - real or notional - between two people, has to be fluid.

If the foundation is solid, the building stands. Otherwise you're just going to scream during a fight,"To think you found me through 'equality matrimonials'. Ab kahaan gayi equality huh? HUH?"

P.S. I must compliment the people at The Times of India. This is a great marketing gimmick. Folks, if any of you advertise under this column, do let me know how it went!

How you carefully cut the brownie at Barista in equal portions, and discussed how many shoes she would be allowed - you know, to keep things equal!

P.P.S. Abhi inaugural discount bhi chal raha hai - pachchis percent. Hurry, equality on offer as long as stocks last...

The above post was not sponsored by Equal. Zindagi ke pyaale mein asli mithaas ka koi substitute nahin.

As they say, shaadi koi mazaak to nahin so let me end on this senti note :)

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Constant Gardener

I haven't updated this blog for a while, for many 'reasons'.

First of all, I was writing a book. And now it's finally done. Yes, my second book has gone to print and will be out this month.

It is a 'sequel' to Stay Hungry and yet, different. Better, I think.

Writing it was exhilarating and yet exhausting. Many were the times when I would rather have blogged about Kapil Sibal than struggled with another chapter. Or proofread pages for the nth time.

But, it is over, I have moved on. In fact, I am now completing a third book.

Which brings me to reason # 2, a bigger reason. And that is, many were the times when I could have blogged - despite the book writing - but something inside me said 'stop'.

In a quiet moment I asked myself,"Why?" And I discovered an uncomfortable truth.

Writing has been one of the great joys of my life. A talent, a gift, a skill which has the power to take me out of myself. When I write, I am in flow. Thoughts come, fingers fly, words are strung together and this sequence of events gives me pleasure - as well as peace -at the same time.

And the amazing thing is, what I write - for the most part - touches people.

You appreciate me, you respond, you are moved to share a part of yourself. Although I do not write for appreciation, I appreciate the appreciation, for sure. In fact, apart from love of writing itself, it is one of the reasons that keeps me going as a blogger.


Well, this part of life, the 'writer' part has been doing extremely well. Without any conscious effort. I mean sure, I do have to put my nose to the grindstone and struggle with 'what am I trying to say' at times. But I know it's just part of the process.

I know I can navigate myself out of any tunnel, no matter how dark.

But that's not the case with the 'rest of my life'. The one that involves people, and relationships. I mean, non-intellectual and 'real world'.

For the longest time, this was a part of myself I always thought I could be 'no good at'. Or at best, average.

Pictures of 'happy families' always made me think - "uh huh, lucky people". I've never felt really close in that way to the people I call my loved ones.

Over the years I realised I am a person whose brain always ruled over her heart. In fact, I barely knew how to deal with emotions - at all.

And yet, leading this life seemed okay to me.
Because, 'you can't have everything'.
Because maybe some people are meant to be this way...

But I realise this is all just rationalisation.

It does not matter how 'successful' you are.
How intelligent you are, how capable.
Or how much money you earn.

If you cannot manage your emotions and connect with people in a deep and meaningful way, nothing really matters.

And so, instead of taking refuge in writing, I am learning to live more fully.
To love and understand myself.
To love and understand others.
To take better care of my body.
Make better use of my mind.
To just be, instead of trying to become.

I feel something inside me changing. And it scares me and thrills me at the same time.

To write about what is happening is a challenge.
I am afraid I will 'reveal' too much of myself.
I will stand exposed.

And I wonder, will you understand?
Or even care??


The good news is, I'm not turning into Paolo Coelho.

I will resume blogging on the subjects I am passionate about - careers, entrepreneurship, 'following your dreams'. And the occassional book review, movie review, thoughts on life, the universe and youth culture.

But from time to time, I will also share that work-in-progress part of myself. Because I think all of us - to lesser or greater degree - need to tend to it.

We nurture mighty trees called 'careers'.
But we let weeds grow in the garden of our soul.

That private space, that special place, where flowers must always be in bloom.
To make life beautiful, and fragrant.
To experience the joy of truly being alive.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth