Wednesday, November 23, 2005

BhagavadGunaDarpana - Vishnu Sahasranama

Vishnu Sahasranama stotra is composed by Veda Vyasa and occurs during the Anusasana Parvan (Section 149, verses 14 to 120) phase of the Mahabharatha. While the Srimad Bhagavad Gita signals the beginning of the Kurukshetra war, Sahasranama stotra marks the end of the war. The stotra begins when Bheeshma Pitamaha lies on the bed of arrows waiting for his time to depart. Yudhishtira approaches Bheeshma and asks him six questions, which any person, who seeks to know the true meaning of God, would ask. Instead of propounding his own theory on what he thinks about God and the means to attain god, Yudhishtira wisely asks the knowledgable Bheeshma. The whole Sahasranama Stotra from beginning to end is a conversation between Yudhishtira, Bheeshma and the narration of the conversation by Sanjaya to Dhirthirashtra (with some quotes from Arjuna and Krishna)

Among the 40 odd commentaries on the Anusasana Parvan, Sankara's is the first. Incidentally this is also Sankara's first ever commentary (under Govind Acharya's tutelage). While Sankara provides the advaitic stand point, Parasara Bhatta, a disciple of Ramanuja provides the Vishitadvaitha stand point with heavy counter arguments against the initial theory. Parasara's work is called BhagavadGunaDarpana. Sri Satyasandha Yatiswara provides the Dvaita commentary for the same episode. This post is my understanding of the scripture after reading the analysis of Vishnu Sahasranama Bhashya of Parasara Bhatta by Dr. S Padmanabhan in his doctoral thesis on Parasara Bhatta and his contribution to Vishishtadvaitha. Dr.Padmanabhan belongs to the Department of Sanskrit, University of Madras. BhagavadGunaDarpana is Parasara's life's work. Apart from this Parasara Bhatta is reputed to have written 5 master pieces on various aspects of God. This post focuses mainly on his Vishnu Sahasranama bhashya (commentary). While Sankara's work came about in the 6/7th century, it is difficult to place Parasara's works. Dr. Padmanabhan places it approximately after Ramanuja's passing away(1137) in the 12th century. Anyway moving on to the actualy commentary....


Vaishyampayana, Dhrithirashtra's narrator says -- "Yudhishtira , a righteous man(dharmana) asks Bheeshma (shaantanavam) 6 questions". Here, Parasara notes that Bheeshma interestingly replies to these questions in more or less reverse order. The 6 questions are -

Kimekam daivatham loke kim vapyekam parayanam
Sthuvantha kam kamarchanta prapnuyur manava shubam
Ko dharma sarva dharmanam bhavatha paramo mathaha
Kim japan muchyathé janthur janma samsara bandhanath


1) The first question without specifying any deity asks "Who(kim) is the supreme(ekam) deity(daivatam) in the world" ?
2) The second question talks about the supreme value/abode (parayaanam) for a man to pursue.
3) Parasara believes the third question asks for the easy means to acheive the highest goal. ( Whom should I praise (sthuvanthan)?)
4) The fourth question asks for the more difficult means to acheive the same goal. (Whom should I worship (archantaah)?)
5) The fifth question is - What is the highest heaven/fullest conception of an ideal endeavour/virtue for a man to pursue?
6) What is the proper japa and whom should it be directed at to release us from material bondage (bandanaath)?

Bheeshma Picks up the last question of Yudhishtira and says "according to me - he who praises the Lord with the 1000 names is above all others. The answer to the second question is given next - The object of worship is Purushottama (Krishna) - the highest being who can be approached through meditation, praise and adoration. While commenting on this answer, Parasara is the only commentator to talk about "anuraga" (pure love) to attain god. Bheeshma then answers the 5th question saying " in my considered view worshipping Lord Vishnu is the highest virtue for a man to pursue". Here Parasara brings out the meaning Bhaktiyoga by using quotations from other older works. Bheeshma then answers the other two questions saying that - attaining Lord Vishnu, the Brahman (word, unrelated to the caste - brahmins) of the Upanishads is the highest goal in life. The nature of Vishnu is explained by Bheeshma in brief as the sole cause of creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe. Bheeshma then re-iterates that the repitition of these 1000 names of the deity purifies one from all sins and removes sorrow.

Parasara seems to be an expert in etymology and seems to be capable of providing (while not actually doing so) 4 -5 meanings for each of the 1000 names. He also seems to have explained wonderfully what Bheeshma calls gaunani (derived from qualities and actions of the Lord) and vikhyatani (well known). It is important to note that any commentary on the prasthana-traya (Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita) and related works like the Sahasranama are always means to an end. Every commentator finds a pattern in these texts that supports his hypothesis of what/who god is and means of reaching god. The hypothesis that has least number of contradictions or vedic violations is an accepted hypothesis. Apart from providing the commentary, Parasara spends a lot of time arguing against the advaitic viewpoints on nirguna and saguna Brahman. He argues extensively that chanting the 1000 names could be a "higher" means to attain god and not necessarily a "lower" means to attain god. He lists the flaws on removal of avidhya that he notes while quoting evidences form various puranas. I am a fan of analogies and Parasara's use of spider and the web to explain material/effective cause & effect was very interesting (the Lord(spider) is the cause and we(web) is the effect. The web later dissolves by the spider's own saliva). His insistence on there being only one material and effective cause makes sense but at the same time difficult to follow. Most of the thesis (which has been released as a book by the Vishitadvaitha research center) is tough to follow. The English is complex ( I mean really complex when they start talking about sentinent and non-sentinent entities) and refers to many concepts in the Gita that were beyond me. While a basic introduction to bhakti yoga, the vedantha concepts would help to understand this book, it does not help all the way.

I am still very naescent on Vedanthic readings. However, from reading an English transalation of Githartha Sangraha (where Yamuna Muni introduces Vishitadvaitha for the first time) and an analysis of Parasara Bhatta's works - it seems to me that man began his quest for God from the days of Yudhishtira. Sankara, Ramanuja, Desika and Madhvachariyar have proposed theories, which I feel are much similar to the scientific theories on gravity, relativity, atomic model etc. Each person proposes a theory and the next generation constantly refines, corrects and develops on that (its just my feeling. I know that many needn't share this).
Note: From talking to various people on this issue and referring to various sources on Sahasranama, it appears that there are actually 1031 names and not 1000. The additional words are considered by experts to be adjectives for the respective nouns and not nouns themselves. Veda Vyasa uses masculine names to describe Lord.Vishnu, feminine names to indicate Vishnu's power and capabilities, and gender neutral terms are used to describe vedic attributes. Approximately 90 names are repeated with a couple of names occuring at least four times.
Disclaimer: I am a learner trying to keep a few baby steps into this vast domain. If there are elders/more knowledgable people reading this and find this post incorrect, please excuse me. I am trying to learn and crystallize my understanding by writing blogs on it. This way I not only disperse info but also understand it better in the process.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Can you believe this?


Look at how Ajith has morphed himself into? Man has he lost weight. Shalini looks good to.

This was on the occasion of Sivakumar's daughter's marriage.

Look at Mr.Paruthi. He has slimmed down incredibly too. Seriously.. I can't believe any of this.

Go Paruthi!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Do Parents know stuff?

Note1: Redux experiment.
Note: This has little to do with the comments on the previous blog on Campus Interviewing. Although some later parts of this blog addresses the arguments there. I wanted to write about this topic for a long time and so here it is. Note this is a rather longish blog and I didn't wanna put it it out in two installments

So... So... do parents know everything? Well..mm...Err..the answer is..hmmm.. NO! SOME TIMES PARENTS DON'T KNOW STUFF.I know .. I know.. I have seen all the fifty thousand Tamil/Bollywood movies where "Maa" and "amma" are deified and volumes written about their greatness. I have listened to all the boring Ilayaraja's amma songs (Frankly! I don't like any of those songs now.. mainly because they have been played to death in TV's). "But hawkeye" cried one of the people I spoke to regarding this blog. "don't write a blog mocking parents, that too especially in India, people will judge you". And the person wisely said "they will even think your parents graduated straight out of hogwarts school". I agree this is one of those "risky" blogs to write. Atta Girl tried it here and later said that it didn't get a very good response. Even if some of her readers were immature enough to think she was expressing her own personal experiences (it really wasn't the point of that blog) in a humorous blog, I thought what she said was mostly true and quite funny too. The only problem was it was more emotional which made her unintentionally appear to be in the anti-mom camp and so made her part of "them" in the "us" Vs "them" war. I think most people only just restate the obvious nowadays. For example in this blog I am going to say "don't ask for advice from people who do not have the requisite knowledge about the subject in hand". But controversy comes when obvious things refer non-obvious targets. For example if I replace "people" with "parents". Then its a controversy. People immediately feel desperate to express love to their parents. "oh! my parents know everything. Parents are supreme. How dare you say stuff about parents whom you owe everything." The usual ballyhoo follows that occupies 70 episodes in mega TV series.

I think people get very personal when such radical views are expressed. I do think parents are good and they play an important role in the society. I own a set of a parents (had them since I was a kid) and I think they are good people to have around you. But I can't stand the urban legends that are being created in our own times about parents. I think blog's such as Atta Girl's and the patriotism blogs do not criticize the concept of parents or the concept of patriotism itself. But the extreme fanatical usage of these concepts to unrelated fields of life. It is the extremity that is an issue. During my college most of the people I moved with took their own decisions. Most of our parents realized that they weren't qualified to counsel us on many career issues and so they stayed away. There are a lot of parents like that. This is a sign of good times. But as some social workers are trying hard to put it across to many people, there are bad parents too. And mostly its up to the kid to realize that. What makes things difficult is nobody except the kid can say anything about it and the kid thinks his parents are demi-gods. These parents who send kids to match factories are working at an extreme level. But there are these middle-class bad parents who also work at a softer level. Oh! No I am not comparing the two ..before we get into that boring topic of "are you saying these two are the same". Off-late I have been hearing these "virtuous stories" about how some people sacrificed personal ambitions ( even if they were logical) just so that they could fall in line with parents. This whole concept of " I will jump out of a building terrace if my mom says so" is now being considered a virtue. And I think this is BS. I wouldn't change T.V channels unless my mom made me a 5-course meal. Most people I know would con their moms into making a 5-course meal and then not change channels (mmmm... that would be me again).

I agree saying "stop this parents hype" is also kind of a taboo in our society. People tend to miss the point that we are only talking about some specific things here and not really trashing everything that parents do. The problem with people in our ethnic group is that we take a lot of old proverbs too seriously. The "Matha.. Pitha.. Guru.. Deivam" was meant to indicate that if you have only 1 pint of beer left in your cellar and your mom, dad, Math Teacher and God were at the poker table. If all four thumped the table for more beer at the same time ,who would you offer the pint of beer first? The proverb says that we gotta let momma have her chance first. If she don't want it, then pappa gets a chance, if he passes out before he drinks the beer, then Math teacher gets beer. If Math teacher croaks before he can get to the beer then God can have it. But! thats just about it. You don't take the proverb seriously and go down the same attendance roll if you want to decide whether to go to Indian taailet or western taailet. The problem with most of us middle-class Indians especially men is that we feel compelled to ask our parents permissions for about... just about anything. I think somewhere along the line being a tinyballs wimp has been confused with some sort of a good virtue.

Lets take an example for instance...A good looking lady Ms.ThalaThalaShri(T.T.Shri) marries Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome (TDH) and a month after marriage they visit a shop like Pothys just for the heck of it. The guy for the past 1 month has boasted about how he danced in front of the movie screen on a first day Rajinikanth movie, on how he and his friends secretly saw porn movies in cheap theatres near Pazhavanthangal after telling his mom that they went to some Volley Ball match competition in Chengalpet. He boasts about how much fun they had drinking and makin-out in Mahabalipuram etc. Inside Pothys when Mrs ThalaThala asks him if she can buy a 3000 Rs Mysore silk saree, our Greek God, Mr.Take Charge guy becomes a wuz and says "hmm.. wait I'll check with my mom first". He then adds as an after thought "she might feel bad that we bought it without asking her! It is all common family budget now ... you know and I don't know if its okay". While she must be thinking "you sick sycophant! you bloody well know how much money you've stashed in your savings account, so you bloody well decide here if you can buy me one or not. Why bring mommy into this here", she doesn't speak her mind because TDH believes mommy doesn't need to be consulted before seeing porn but needs to be consulted before buying a saree. He is being a good son now.

I have seen people consulting their parents before switching jobs, making career decisions, buying diapers for their children etc. This is not good virtue. Parents don't know stuff and even if they know they sometimes should not be consulted. (Don't confuse this with the art of laziness. That's a separate world. I don't move a spoon an inch in my house. Laziness is a good virtue :-)...always ). Very rarely do we have parents who know what's the most current thing in Software Industry or other newer job functions. I am not talking about those minority parents here. So seriously none of the "parents know more than you think they do! don't underestimate them" comments please. Most Parents are Bankers, Retired Govt folks or Maligai Kadai owners. There is a good chance that they do not know anything about your work or the kind of lifestyle your work dictates. So how does being a parent make one special enough litter advise on his/her children. One person told me(or rather complained to me) that if he had continued his long working hours for 2 more years he would have made it big in his company by now. But since his parents didn't like his long working hours (not for health or other good reasons), he had to make the "sacrifice" and slow the pace of his career. While he thought he was like mythological character who had made a big sacrifice, I thought he was a sissy diaper boy. Some times parents don't know shit about your job. Don't bother them with gory job details. Where is your sense of independence? Why the hell do you have to ask some non-specialist person about a very important decision just because they were closely related. This doesn't stop with career related things also. I have also seen people who have grown up for 20 years seeing the world through their parents eyes. Their parents perspective becomes their perspective, people who are bad in the eyes of the parent become bad people in their eyes too. I think nobody stops to evaluate their past perceptions when they are old enough to evaluate them. They just ride on the inherited biases. Our society is still male centric. Imagine if the guy of the house just blindly executes whatever "elders" say. If the elders turn out to be perfect jackasses, the dependents (wife/kids) of that guy are positively screwed for life.

This "ask the Senior Family Member" also makes me laugh always. In those days 1 set of parents gave birth to 72 children (okay... I know this is an exaggeration.. the point is they had lot of children..but its more fun exaggerating this way :-) so play along with me). Digression: Why so many children you may ask? Consulting parents is the problem again. In those days parents not only married their children in early teens but also gave their children sound advise on when to have the first child. oh! are you asking Why they said that. I have a theory for that too :-). "End user functionality testing" is the technical term. You buy a product, say a cell phone, and then buy a SIM card. You put the SIM inside the Mobile phone, charge it for a while and see if they work well together. While the first call is a functionality issue, the other gzillion calls are service and mileage issues. I'll stop the innuendo here as it has conveyed the point :-). So in those days the children, since they blindly obeyed elders, furiously mated until they filled up an entire village. I surely think they would have mated even before they became familiar with each other's face or voice. It is true to some degree (thought not that drastic) even now. That is because the first chance a couple get to know each other is when they are sent into a room to mate. The difference now is that the parents tell children when to stop, which was something they didn't do previously. "I told my son two is enough in this economic climate" beams a father proudly because his son stopped mating after 2 children. The father considers his son an obedient boy because of this act. End Digression. This is why in the days of the 72 children, where mothers, daughters and daughter-in-laws were pregnant at the same time, decision making was such a hassle. If "child" #71, had his own grandson and wanted to buy an underwear for the baby. He can't decide whether it should be blue color or red color, there is NOT a huge confusion on which color is right? But there is a huge commotion on whether it is "appropriate" to make a decision without consulting the elders. Given that it is a large family, there are many people dying and some constantly fighting(everytime they fight they vow that the blood-relationship has been terminated), so its difficult to find out who is the senior most member that should be consulted. A quick look at the census report shows that children from #1 to #17 have croaked and #18 is the senior most person alive. But upon going to Mr.#18's house Mr.#71 finds that # 11 is alive after all. But since the first son of #1 is elder than # 11 there is a huge debate on who is actually the senior most. Finally it is decided that since "sthanam" (position) is more important than age, # 11 should decide the underwear color. Now Mr.11 has lived in an era where underwear did not exist and only komanams were in vogue. So he is confused. But the sudden feeling of being **senior most** makes him feel very self-important and he imagines he can do stuff beyond his capabilities. He suggests a wooden underwear. So Mr.Munna, the new born kid, develops rashes in his thigh region because some old man didn't know what an underwear was. However, child # 71 is now a satisfied man (and wont get the "kirumi bhojanam" punishment) because he has done the virtuous thing in consulting elders.

Do I exaggerate? What do you mean? Ofcourse I do. But the point I am trying to communicate is that advice on important issues must be sought from people whom you can trust, people who have goodwill towards you. Parents have all these attributes. But the most important criteria is that the people must have knowledge on the topic you seek advise on. All the other things have no value when knowledge is absent. The reason why I wanted to write something on this (the reason I did not write then was because of stuff mentioned in para 1) is that a couple of years before a person known to me wanted to do an MBA. His father was 59 years old and about to retire in 1 year. His father disallowed the MBA purely because of his own idiosyncratic principle that "I don't want my son to be studying after I retire. I want him to be working when I retire". Money was not the criteria here ( economic considerations is certainly a genuine reason and logical too), the son was working and had enough stashed up, the father had enough moolah. But some stupid childhood stand-alone principle dominated the father's decision and therefore his son's fate. Plus this person's parents wanted to see a grandchild before they died. And so this guy was virtually forced to mate. To this day that fellow regrets the window of opportunity that is now permanently gone. I think such stupid sons deserve this fate for consulting parents on the first place.

The crux of this blog is, parents have an important role to play in anybody's lives. But their role has its limitations too. Too much of nectar is also poison. The first mistake would be to consult them on issues, which they have no knowledge about or issues which aren't relevant to them. If the parents are good people they'll just say "I dunno stuff... you do whats right". The second mistake will happen if parents fall in the category of "I am elder so I know everything under the sun. So I'll give a load of bad advise". This will lead to either them giving bad advise (or) people who they think as "senior and elder" will give you load of crappy advise.

Regarding "economic conditions" factor. I wouldn't again immediately say, " oh! if money is a factor then do whatever your parents say". Where is a Logic Ramani when you need one, I say!? People who should really be writing blogs are not doing so. I think screwing up a work life (by taking whatever comes first) because your current economic situation is below-par is not a good solution. One half of your life is already sad and now you want to make the other half pathetic also. The case is presented as if there is no intersection between (a job that you like) + (a job that will satisfy your immediate economic needs). Believe me when I say such a non-trivial category of jobs that can be/should be aimed for...exists. If you attribute bad career decisions to family problems, unless the situation is pretty bad, many people will tend to think you are a whinging coward. But yes! A lot of risk needs to be taken to maximize chances of success if your life is in this space. Nothing worth achieving will come without risk.. There are a lot of people, a really lot, who have had meager financial resources, horrendous family problems and have taken the risk and become successfully. When they say "Its possible", it is not as if they are talking about something they don't know. None of us were washed ashore with floatsam and jetsam that was loaded with money and gold. If you want something badly, then convincing your parents that you are waiting for the right thing shouldn't be a difficult thing to do. Not even trying to convince your parents and settling for "a job" shows that you are an ambitionless and a big waste of space. Saying such things are not even possible/practical is insulting the ones who have done it successfully with a lot of hardships.

Sri Rama was a loyal son to his father. He went to forest because that was Dasarathan's wish. Agreed! But Dasarathan didn't pretend he knew everything under the sun. Otherwise he wouldn't have sent Sri Rama to Vaishwamitrar for training. I think our people have read too much into our ancient texts and made mindless worship of parents a virtue. Everybody loves their parents. Its taking it to the extreme that nauseating. Before flooding the superlatives on ALL parents, people must also remember that there was a person called HiranyaKashaboo who pained his son Prahaladan so much that Prahaladan decided to rub him off. So parent's aren't always right.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Love

I am not the best person to write about this topic. I suck in this topic big time. But I can give a I-suck-in-this-point-of-view on this subject. I am writing this mainly to help out a friend ( you know who you are) who seems to be going through "that rough patch" that most people go through in life. This post may come out weak because this is really not one of my strongest topics.

What is love? It is that thing you develop on seeing girls in NIIT class, GRE coaching class, tuition class, same electronics & communication class. It is acheived by BE-senior-taking-junior-to-culturals, 2nd-year-MS-helping-first-year-do-groceries-by-driving-her-around-in-a cheap-4th-hand-car, and finally also by being a rakhi-brother-promoted-to-lover.

If I were to make a conjecture, I would say - Love is a complex emotion. Being brought up in a exam-oriented environment most of us approach "love" as they would approach exams. This is a profound thing I learned about love. For example, if you want to ace an exam you can sit for 20 hours a day and crack it. Love is not that. Why? because Love depends on other people and other people are random. This takes away any structure out of the process and any hope of putting an algorithm. You might have heard "hard work leads to success" and stuff like that. But those are on things you can control. When it comes to love a person can do a helluva lot of hard work and it can amount nothing. Because minds are fickle. There is no more random thing than a person's mind. Hard work may not influence minds. I have seen people do a million things to impress a girl and it still turned out to counter productive. And there is no damn reason why that should be so. But thats how it is because you never know which direction minds will run for a given stimuli.

From talking to people who have indulged in this whole love thing. I think love gets compounded second-over-second at a rate of 26000000 (echoose me.. finance class going on) mainly because of the extended fantasy sequences that goes on in the mind. The person-in-love imagines being with the girl, talking to her, kissing her, doing the fun stuff. Any advt, movie sequence the person sees, he extrapolates that stuff to apply to him and that 'special girl'. So without the girl being aware that he exists, he has (mentally) spent a zillion hours with her, kissed her 56,700 times, made love twice as much and had 3 kids too. So while he approaches her assuming the fantasy thing is reality, the girl still is focussed on the real reality. The girl could infact be thinking about some one else and going through the whole cycle. Most girls/boys dont realize that there is a big link-list of love-and-unrequited-love going on. If only the person down the list knew what was going on in the mind of the person who rejected him/her. So a lot of the many who fall in love actually develop the gumption to propose. This could lead to a spectrum ranging from, "you spoilt the friendship", "I dont know why you got the vibe", "let me think about it" and even a possible "yes! thank! same here".

See... I think rejection is one of the things every person has to get over in life. Friends reject you, Employers reject you, colleges reject you, credit cards reject you and finally members of the opposite sex reject you. It is tough when it happens. But you move on. Everybody moves on. Its stupid not to move on. I personally believe (like many do) that "what doesn't kill you -- only helps you". Brooding on lost love and using that to ignore other important things is escapism. That will certainly kill you :-). The idea is to get on with it. It is tough but you have to get on with it. And you know what? You will move on. Thats the nature of life. In about 3 months, I have seen the same romeo's feel happy, hate the girl and actively pursue other girls. There is no loyalty in hanging on to the past and thinking about the same girl. That is no loyalty. Loyalty is to self and for that you have to move on. To be frank in about 6 months it wont be a big deal. To be brutally frank it is not a big deal. People can live without a lot of things. Love is easily one of them.

There is no point blaming the girl or telling others "she used me" etc. The girl is doing whats best for her. I am reminded of Kamal hassan's quote in an interview (sometimes he says awesome things). A person walks on the road and he steps over an insect without knowing it. Does it mean he has a vengance against the insect or has something against it. No! It is his nature to do that. He is doing his job and it is the nature of the insect to be stamped. The way I look at it - That is the way things have been arranged.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Dear Friend Sudhish

Every now and then my ex-classmate writes something that makes me feel.... "you and me.. connected somehow"

Cuz there is no more suspense or excitement about opening your blog and
finding some sad ass anonymous son of anonymous fathers leaving a mark of his
presence.A mark that tells you someone in this world cannot stand you. When you
affect someone you don't really know that much, it means you've arrived. You are
popular. Imagine, these people not only visit you regularly, they do a word
verification, and post a comment to take out their pent up frustration and keep
checking every one hour to see if I've kicked their butt yet.But then, it is
also a mark that reminds you that you have a long way to go. And your goal is
not achieved till you kick the last evil rotten butt left in blogosphere.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The IIPM Controversy

So I have watched the whole controversy evolve, have its 15 minutes of fame and slowly become a 14th page news item. In the end 1 person lost his job and is being sued along with 3 others in court of law. The controversy briefly is that JAM a popular student magazine claimed that IIPM (which is a management school) is a fake institution, which claims incorrect things in its advertisement campaign. Gaurav Sabnis linked that in his blog (I am deliberately NOT linking Gaurav or IIPM in this post) and added his own comments trashing IIPM further. The concerned parties later reported that IIPM sent legal notices to them and purpotedly called up Gaurav's employer, IBM, and told them that if Gaurav didn't remove the posts[source/courtesy:anonymous commentor] they would burn IBM laptops that the university bought. Gaurav resigned in an effort to prevent his employer from beng dragged into a controversy.

The whole blogging world overwhelmingly supported Gaurav Sabnis and termed it "freedom of speech" and some also claimed IIPM's reaction a supperssion of that freedom. In my opinion this support could mean nothing(or less) if Gaurav Sabnis is really taken to court and does not have hard data.

My Opinion: I dont know anything about IIPM. In the ice-age, I paid my GRE fees through IIPM. Thats it. I have no bias for or against it. I am looking at it from a legal point of view or at least a common man's point of view. I am not a fan or hater of Gaurav either. Both IIPM and Gaurav are equal to me now. So let me analyze this using the Kuppan & Suppan example. Lets say Suppan is a Education Minister. I can critisize and make fun of Suppan's policies as a minister. I can say funny things about dress codes, syllabus etc. This is public domain. What I cannot say is that -- Suppan's sister is a prostitute or Suppan has faked his educational credentials and then claim that it is "freedom of speech". Prostitution and Falsyfying educational information are both against the law and as a citizen of India you are obligated to report such crimes to the Police. But those don't fall under Freedom of Speech. This is a technicality. If I claim such things I'd better be prepared to back it up (like show that people visited Kuppan's sister, paid her and spent the night with her, have a list of evidences and bring a college principal to say that Suppan never received a degree). Otherwise anybody can say anything and get away with it. We don't want anybody to say irresponsible things and get away with it, Do we?

If many readers think that claiming "IIPM is fake" is "freedom of speech" then lodging a case against Gaurav is also "freedom of speech". IIPM is well within its rights to slap a case on Gaurav. While I disagreed IBM being brought into the whole issue and thought it was a cheap tactic, IIPM is well within its rights to burn IBM Laptops protesting against something (Pollution control Police in Delhi might protest). Let me do role-plays to suggest strategies each might be(or should be) following. If I were IBM I would let IIPM burn the laptops. C'mon laptops cost a lot - it would have been fun to see if they had gone ahead executed the threat. If I were an IIPM student and I bought the laptops personally, I wouldn't be caught dead burning anything. Already I am facing a possibility of my college being called a fake, I don't want a burnt-out laptop to add to my agony. If I were IIPM, I would sue the hell out of Gaurav Sabnis. Seriously, if IIPM believes that Gaurav said stuff and has no hard data to back it up then he is dead meat as far as I am concerned. As IIPM, I know that it is all high and nice when you are creating sensation in a crowd. But as an individual facing lawyers, huge fine and jail sentence in a court of law you are liable to break down easily. The cheer squad won't be there. Given the way courts function it is highly probable that IIPM may win the case. Nobody paused to think that IIPM would have sound plans to back their claims up legally (even assuming Gaurav is right and they cooked it up). They have a legal cell which must be worth something. Usually putting out such advts involve N thousand disclaimers, which offer legal immunity. The N thousand loop holes in our law system allows for making false claims and getting away with it legally (this is assuming IIPM has made false claims - and as I said I believe in "NOT GUILTY until proven guilty in a court of law" ). But if I were in IIPM's shoes, I don't think I want to add to the publicity of the whole issue. Especially these kind of sensitive issues. Sometimes even if you are on the correct side negative publicity would bring you down.

But what surprises me is, Why are people so quick to assume IIPM is wrong? Maybe I dont know enough information here. I re-iterate, I dont know anything about IIPM. I have no bias for or against it. I am looking at it from a legal point of view or at least a common man's point of view. I see nothing wrong in IIPM filing a case against gaurav. I am not particularly for or against Gaurav either. I am just seeing practically what could happen from here on. If he can win the case, fine. Good for him. Good for the society. If he does not win the case (in all probability he may hire a 2Rs lawyer and IIPM will come with likes of Jethmalani), We all learn a lesson and he pays the price. Even if it wins, IIPM's poularity may take a hit because of the dirt this or any case is naturally bound to throw up. But Gaurav is gone and out. Bottomline: This is simple - With regular rights come regular responsibilities. There is no easy way if you believe IIPM is fake and you want to prove it. You have to fight the battle and back your claims. I hope for Gaurav's sake, he can put his money where his mouth is.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Why should one do an MBA?

Note: This also contains musings on Part-time Vs Full-Time

UNIX developers generally have an arrogance that the world revolves around them. Developing operating systems, writing drivers, dealing with C-assembly interaction is as geeky as it gets. It is probably one of the most challenging jobs in software programming industry and pretty prestigious one too. At first I thought I was lucky to be part of this breed but then later I became more ambivalent about the whole thing.

We had a new IIM graduate in our office and after about 2 months he made some suggestions of how we should do our jobs. So this is how I observed the conversation between a couple of engineers and the MBA guy after he made his suggestions...

Engineer1: What did you do before MBA?
MBA: I did engineering in REC.
Engineer1: Do you know anything about Linux?
MBA: No
Engineer2: Do you know what a vi editor is?
MBA: No I dont know what it is. Never used it.
Engineer1: So all you do is draw diagrams in power point. Thats your skill set?
MBA: No I collect information before I put it in the power point.
Engineer2: But you dont add code to mainline product development. We can still develop the product without you... right?
MBA: I think you can.
Engineer1: Then what the *%%**# do we need you for?

Looking at the conversation, I thought how I would have reacted couple of years before and how I felt then. Two years before I would have sided with the engineers. But at the time I was witnessing the conversation exchange, I felt sympathy for the ignorant engineers. They were infact pretty pathetic. As a new engineer your whole world is just surrounded by other engineers. You have product deadlines, bug list, everybody is looking at the engineering team and concerned if xyz would come out well etc. So it is fair if you thought engineering was the center of the world. But as years went by and I began to think about how a company is started and what needs to happen for a business to run, my opinions began to change.

Most companies run their business because, to put it simply, they solve a problem. Even if the problem does not exist they try and provide a solution that would make lives comfortable and create a situation, where without that solution, life would be a problem. Tech companies are mostly IP (Intellectual Property) based. So lets say you are a business man wanting to start a business. What do you do?

1) Research a market and its needs (market research)
2) Decide what solution would solve that needs (market research)
3) Pick an IP thats relevant or invest in developing an IP that is relevant (innovation)
4) Find out how much revenues can be gained out of the market by selling the solution.
5) Need to convert raw IP to a software solution. So set up team to do that (engineering)
6) Sell the solution (sales)

Items 1 through 4 is marketing and innovation -- The asset part of any company. 5 and 6 are costs. They reduce profits. The less the amount expended into 5 & 6, the better for the company. While 0.1% of engineers fall in #3 the other 99.99% of them fall in item #5. So the more engineers, I employ to develop my solution, the more my profitability decreases.

This was a significant realization for me. This cut down to size my perception of the value of engineers to a company. I began to view them as liabilities. I began to see marketing(and innovation) as the key sources of profitability of any company and everything else just costs. To put it simply no matter how complex the engineering work you do, if it ain't selling anywhere and ain't got no market, then you are just doing bullshit.

So I stopped saying "he is an MBA guy who doesnt dont shit about the technology. What use is he in this company". You know what? For an MBA, intricate knowledge of technology is irrelevant. As crazy as it sounds. Its completely irrelevant when you are out to determine if a solution will sell or not. You don't need to know shit about the intricate details of a technology, if you can tell me how to package it and where to sell it? Thats more important than anything else. In fact knowing technology is a burden. You get hung up on irrelevant details, which don't matter at all.

This led to a realization about where the meat of a company lies. It lies in finding the right direction for a company. It lies in aligning the company in directions where the costs (the ones you spend on engineers) can be recovered quickly. It lies in market research, it lies in betting on the right things to innovate. Words like courage, leadership, which until then meant dissecting a memory core dump to analyze a crash, began to take new meaning. Doing work to develop something in a closed system is not that hard. Doing work in an open environment where there aren't strict definitions on do's and donts is more difficult.

Management decisions are like angles of rocket re-entry into the earth. A few wrong nano-centimeters here and there and you could find yourself in Africa instead of the pacific. Strategy and marketing are things that rule how a company behaves. It probably constitutes 95% of the intellectual work done in the company. To put it simply an MBA moves you from a decrease-profitability section to an increase-profitability section.

Part Time MBA Vs Full-Time MBA:

A lot of people have asked me on my thoughts about Part-Time MBA. I conciously chose not to do it. So I can't lie that its the best thing and so you should do it. It is certainly considered by some I spoke to as - 1 step lower than a full-time MBA. I partially agree with that opinion. Most top schools don't allow career-services/recruiting access for part-time students. Full-time students in Business Week forums believe that since Full-Time students have higher stakes and have taken greater risks - it is unfair to allow low-risk takers an equal share of the career services facility.

The full-time MBA experience is a separate beast. Some top companies clearly know if you are a part-time MBA (it shows in the resume) and might not even consider you a real MBA. 99% of the recruiters are ex Full-Time MBAs and they carry strong opinions about different MBA streams with them. In the US, an MBA is less about courses than it is about the experience, the clubs and the activities that go on outside classrooms. As a part-time MBA you cannot get this experience. This does not mean that part-time MBAs don't get jobs that full-time MBAs get. But it is more difficult and rare. Moreover, you may have some obligation to stay with the same company after you do an MBA because they sponsored your part-time MBA. So once you complete an MBA, you won't have an instant job promotion and salary impact. While full-timers get instant rewards (because they have given up 2 years of salary), part-timers have to depend on their organic career progression or other opportunities within the company to get up, which is usually slow and very restrictive.

My general suggestion is - if you can do a full-time, do it. When you have no choice (marriage, kids are not sufficient reason for not doing full-time) then do a part-time. But know that this may not be the best option out there.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

MBA US Vs India Part II

IIM

I have a lot of regard for students from Indian Institute of Management. My regard is however restricted to students from A, B and C intitutes because I have not met/spoken to folks from other IIMs.

Preparation for IIMs start almost as early as preparation for US Bschools. I joined IMS in May. This time is just about right to start preparing for IIM. I started taking full exams during August. A lot of time is required to prepare for this exam. If you are busy at work, then that becomes an excuse to not do well in CAT. There is no point bitching you were busy. That does not show in the CAT marksheet. A percentile is the only number that comes up. So if that number aint good, nobody but your grandma will be interested in listening to your sob stories as to why you didnt get into IIM.
The way I saw it -- IIM's way of screening prospective students is about as different from US Bschools as apples and oranges are different from each other. The primary differences are as follows

1) The objective tests are (almost) everything as far as IIMs are concerned. It is just a data point for US Bschools. You can do bad in GMAT and still get into Harvard. In fact HBS did not accept GMAT scores until 6-7 years ago.

2) The top 10 US Bschools admit close to 3500 students among 70000 applicants each year. I think around 10 of the admitted students (at maximum) will be freshers (people who join immediately after undergrad). This is NOT 10% but on total just 10 students. Even 10 is like an exagerated number. It may be less than 5 students overall for most years. Even these students would have done something remarkable as starting their own company while at undergrad to get in. IIM (A, B, C) admits close to 600 students out of 150000 applicants. From talking to friends, I believe at least 100 are freshers (again both numbers are just educated guesses at best ... but I think you get the point). If you are a fresher and for some odd reason you think that you "know" that you have to get an MBA (Why you think so? is another question altogether) you are better of applying to IIM than US BSchools.

3) US Bschools extensively test maturity, team work , leadership and career progression. IIMs, could ask pointed questions about this if you get to the personal interview stage, but otherwise I believe they do not focus much on such aspects.

4) If you are someone who looks for diversity in class, in terms of student population from various countries, IIMs may not be the place for you.

5) If you are looking for employment in prestigious institutions in India, IIMs are the best option. If you are looking for global options then both IIM and US Bschools offer equal opportunities.

6) if you are looking for specialized training in Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital kind of niches -- IIMs are not the place. Many ex-IIMs and ex-XLRIs do another US MBA if they discover later in life that they want to be an Entrepreneur. Harvard and Stanford are probably 2 schools where you can end up starting a company while at school. I do not think many other schools can claim to consistently have such a reputation. I think this aspect is non-existent in IIMs (barring a few students who started coaching class institutions)

7) IIMS are not expensive and the fees is probably 1/10th of what you would pay in US BSchools.

These aspects should give you a fair idea as to the nature of the two schools and their expectations. Your situation and your ambitions predicts which of the two options are better for you. Except for few aspects it is not wise to to objectively try and determine which of the two options are better. My personal opinion, I have never been comfortable with IIMs taking campus freshers. In fact I am completely against MBAs for people with no industry experience. In my previous work place we had IIM graduates falling in this category who had no clue about the industry or what they wanted to do in life. They were smart enough to pick up stuff along the way but they would have been 'relatively' better off had they known what they want in life before they joined B School. I have also heard ex-students say that it is the students that really make IIM look good. This is something that I agree with wholeheartedly. Some of my younger-year mentors were IIM graduates. A lot of them are simply brilliant analytical-ability-wise. The good thing was - they themselves are sometimes frank in admitting that other soft-skill and maturity aspects aren't strictly evaluated by IIMs. The 3 or 4 people I spoke to did not feel that IIM had a unique culture and did not feel their personality went through a radical transformation during B School life.

ISB:

This is a new and upcoming institution, which I researched for a quite a bit before deciding not to apply because it did not fit with my personal aspirations. It offers a 1 year course and costs 16 lacs. The value of an MBA course is determined by the quantity and quality of recruitement statistics. ISB is well on the rise as far as recruitment and recognition is concerned. But as far as I am concerned they ain't there yet. Their preference for both GRE and GMAT score concerns me. High cost and millionaire-kids-school was something that concerned me when I thought of applying. The latter may not be true as I know some students coming from middle class background who have actually got in.

The good thing is this intitution has support from leading US Bschools. Follows an application approach similar to US BSchools. This approach is in my opinion much better than the ones that the IIMs follow. I am not suggesting that ISB has better students compared to IIMs. It is just that IIMs will be better off stopping the CAT and coming up with a more mature evaluation process.

The CAT Exam:

I totally disrespect this exam. I do not think high about anybody purely because they cracked CAT. In a work situation it does mean much. IIM students are good because a big chunk of them who cracked this exam were also good self-starters. That they were also self-starters is a happenstance not a causality of doing well in the CAT.

To me, a MBA graduate needs to have a certain amount of analytical skills. Skills good enough to do his/her job. But it is complete nonsense to think analytical skills are the only aspect of the job. GMAT tests the analytical requirement adequately. There is no need for a "tougher", complicated and absolutely crazy test to evaluate a person's analytical ability. Doing fast math will not help anybody run a company, start a business or even push a team to be successful. Nobody invented a business idea by computing stuff rapidly. There is a correlation of r= 0.6 :-) between analytical ability and how a person would be successful post MBA. Team work, Demostrated Leadership potential, personality, maturity, clearly thought out ambitions are better indicators (r = 0.99) of post-MBA success than a silly math exam.

Does this prevent good candidates from entering IIMs. Most certainly yes! I have seen very good leaders, ambitious smart people who would have made excellent future business leaders not get into IIM because they couldn't do math as fast as a fresh grad from IIT. IIM has missed out on people big time.