Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Indian Railways- A force that keeps India on track

Two things happened this weekend which seeded the thoughts to realize how much India relies on its railway network and makes a difference in so many lives around the tracks. The first was I set foot into a long distance train after a gap of about 4 years and though travelling by train is not the kind of stuff you tend to forget, it was an eye opener in a few ways. To complement the experience, the next day I had the another thing come in the form of an interview of the Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu; who was taking the opportunity to talk about the one year in office for the new government at the center.

So to begin; it was not the first time I was taking a train from Dadar to Sanjan- that falls between large industrial areas of Tarapur- Boisar in the South and Vapi in the North, and is served by a few through passenger trains and regular shuttle service from Virar to Vapi. The best choice of train is the Firozpur Janta Express which is a long distance and hence takes limited stops in comparison. But as fate might have it, it stood cancelled for the day. The reason for the cancellation actually brought out a key reason to justify that how important are trains to Indians and how deep is its impact.

As a mark of protest and arm twisting, a community in Rajasthan had broken onto the tracks and paralysed the passage of all trains. Now they sure did manage to catch the eye of the government and open up discussion forums- but the blockade ensured that the most convenient train from Mumbai to the industrial belt to its north was not going to run. The result was a bone crushing rush on the next available train that ran an hour later.

Now a standard coach is designed to accommodate about 90 people in an unreserved 2nd class sleeper- but Indians are indigenous. A seat for four had at least 5 and the side seating for 2 was shared by 4. The berths are occupied by 4 more people taking the average seated population to 22 per compartment and 198 across the coach. Not to mention the standees who were at times on one foot, crammed around the wash room and gangways. Even by moderate estimates; every coach was carrying three times its designed load.

While most were complaining about the inconvenience of not even getting sufficient air to breathe; for the regulars, it was just a deviation from the normal as business continued relentless over the phone and serious discussions across the aisles. Sure a few grumpy souls argued about who stepped on whom, the spirited ones saw the glass half empty and searched for every nook for that one step space to get away from a one-legged struggle and root both feet on to the ground. 

By the time the train crossed the first industrial belt and I got invited to sit and join a daily traveller group; I had an epiphany of sorts- Railways is not just a means of transport, it’s a way of life. Even on the move, it’s a place to make friends and also do business within the circles. As a mode of transport it is still damn cheap and hence preferred by the common man. Not surprising is the fact that disruption of rail services has a big impact on the common man… enough to make governments sit up and take notice.  

Now even while trying hard to stay aloof from the in-coach space haggles, I managed to catch glimpses of some rapid activity in terms of additional infrastructure being readied along the existing tracks. It is a long standing and delayed project for the Mumbai-Delhi freight corridor that is finally taking shape and new bridges, underpasses and desired land being marked all across. Yes, it might finally happen in a few years that passenger trains and freight may run on separate lines, at higher speeds and no interfere with each other. But considering the DC to AC conversion around Mumbai happened just last year, I am not sure few years might be how few in reality.

And this was the void in my mind which was answered the very next day by the Railways Minister.
Infrastructure has long been an area ignored as most Railway Budgets have focussed on new trains and super enticing packages for passengers. But when more trains come on the same tracks, you will always have the problems with congestions. If more trains are a solution to curb the rush; better tracks and facilities are as important. Conversion of a single to double track, changeover of older tracks and overall safety need to be enhanced and this all demands time and monetary resources. Fare hikes and selling land is not an option- nor is changing the accounting methods to make losses look like profits.  I can’t agree more with the minister’s words.

It was thereby nice to see some visible changes around which were both encouraging and path breaking. For example, the water cabins have long been the site of leaky taps, muck and water puddles and the haven for algae. But seeing a clean water source with an RO unit and people not having to hop and jump around pools of water was a welcome sight. So was the fact that there always was an active cleaner on the platforms to sweep away any thrash away from the rails. Yes, some personal discipline towards not throwing thrash around the place and out from windows has to be injected into the passengers.

Few things are very very clear for me – Railways in India are more than just a transportation system. For the common man, it still is the cheapest and comparatively faster mode of transport. It is the lifeline for people who have to travel daily along a length and if 3 Cr people travel each day, it might also be the safest mode in India. Yes, the lack of development in infrastructure and no long term vision has led to almost a threatening situation – but as much as anyone else, we need to take care and make immense for all this. End of the day, it is these trains that keeps people, the flow of good and the entire nation on the track. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Breaking the digital code- Online profiles

A flip side of being a frank and non- judgemental person is people can look forward toward testing their own views and opinions with you. I love this part of being associated with people for a good set of reasons: firstly, I like the idea of being taken seriously at some point in time by everyone around me and such instances; apart from stimulating my own though process on the topic,give me an opportunity to place some arguments across that promote a healthy discussion.

So even if my answer means nothing to questions like – how do I look, does this outfit suit me, do you think this will work a charm or am I dressed to the occasion; I like to be honest and spare a lot of my uncharacteristic words in response.

I recently had a person ask me to run a check on a LinkedIn profile (that was the 3rd such request in the last 2 months) and though I have no real expertize in this area of building professional profiles, it has been something I have looked into for myself development and understanding.

Now the first time I made a ‘Resume’ (which people uncannily pronounced in a manner suggesting a continuation), I had actually aped something that existed in my brother’s folder and crossed it with a senior batch topper. Well it possibly had something that worked, as it earned me my first job as a graduate fresher in an MNC. The next one I made had a bit too much of gimmicks and when I met a job consultant later in life, he was appalled by how can a person with 3 years of experience have a CV running four pages. What he suggested did make a lot of sense and has become my basis to plan every profile I have made in future.

What I’m about to share now is something that can be applied to every single place where you might have to put up a profile for yourself and compete against a million others wooing the same opportunity in life.  Trust me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a professional profile, matrimonial, social media or dating- this is like a marketing effort and rules seldom change.

The first question that needs to be addressed is what are people seeing your profile looking out for? A recruiter is looking for domain expertise, a marriage prospect is looking for a love, nurturing and life-long companionship, while life is a bit less formal when it comes to social media and dating apps. No rocket science eh? And it is actually not. The essence is in how you make yourself appealing against other who might be in the exact same boat as you with the same intent and persona.

So how do you make yourself the brightest star in the sky- a simple way: Differentiate. People today work on impulse and do not have a lot of time to run across profiles. It is all about catching the eye in 5 seconds and keeping the person interested for the next 5 minutes.

Differentiation is the art of being a common man with an uncommon appeal. May be being an engineer or an MBA is no longer the most appealing, but an ambition driven professional with the moon as his destination is the way forward. This is the place where strong and decorative words like aficionado and expert in a certain domain becomes a smarter pitch. A title for an achiever; especially for doctors, lawyers, PhD, Post-docs acts as the filter to make you stand out. Bottom line- short words with big baggage are an anchor.

What is a Matrimonial sites once got me a super response- it’s a sheep farm. Profiles and pictures are just too exhaustive and repetitive in their appeal. Every girl is well educated, sweet and homely with at least one pic in a saree, salwar kameez and western outfits. All guys are mature, well settled and caring with pictures in glares, kurta and suit being a must. Every family is open minded and modern life style compounded with a traditional outlook. This can be further elaborated with pictures against the Eiffel Tower with a 10% portion of the pic resembles the person in contention. Just a thought- will a girl in denims in a bowling alley lack appeal. Or a guy in shorts in a candid expression not ring a bell? Will use of a casual approach hurt the institution of marriage? I don’t think so… might just set things right I guess. 

Now the most awesome profiles I find are on dating apps. The reason they are awesome is that they seems to follow the “farm animal” philosophy to the core. 5 pictures and an Instagram link and I’m left to wonder… so are you a model or just crazy with selfies. They have everything: selfies against a mirror in the ladies washroom where you can’t help but notice the WC, selfies at an angle where the bosom and cleavage is exaggerated and yes; selfies with dogs and kittens. People seldom realise that a dog selfie is a turn off- especially it the dog is having some psychedelic green eyes due to the flash and looks like suffering from glaucoma. And read the profile- “too much to say, why don’t you discover…”- so right; I have to be the dog chasing cars now eh?

Bottom line- I guess it’s time we did realize what we plan to do and build digital identities with some logic and purpose which can help distinguish people rather than making them sheep. Talk a bit about yourself to say what is the one thing that defines you. Be original and you will be unique- being an ape is going back in evolution.