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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Importance of English

There are a lot of people in India, who dont' quite appreciate the importance of English. They consider English as a foreign language (which it certainly is) and a leagacy of the British rule (which again it certainly is). Then they go on to try and de-emphasize the growing importance of English in the country as a medium of communication and a medium of instruction.

The arguments of these people rests on two grounds - a) Children are best taught in their mother tongue's as that is a language which is natural to them and b) Continued use of english represents british legacy and it somehow is in conflict with our idea of sovereignity.

With regard to the first argument, I have not seen any evidence or do I believe that fundamentally there is any reason for a child to have better learning capability in one language over another. To me that sounds like a truck load of crap.

On the contrary, the second argument has some merits to it. There are a lot of people I know/have encountered who like to use English as a means on impressing people or some how proving their superiority over others. This to me is a sign of mental block. In fact many a times, I try and respond to these people in crude english or best in vernacular language.

Superiority/Command over english is no sign of one's intellect or social or economic status and
any move towards believing or assuming so is purely a reflection of one suffering from an inferiority complex.

However the point that we miss in the above discussion is how incredibly important enlish as a language is and how indespensible it is.

I recently was in a non-english speaking european country and boy, was I relieved that people there spoke english. How else do you communicate? If there's any one language today which is standard or benchmark accepted globally - it is english and thank god for it!

People who keep on harping about the adverse impact of growing importance of english in the country need to be dumped to a foreign country and asked to live without using english - that should wake them up nicely. And we are here talking about simple living - finding food, locating places etc. Then comes the complex task of actually conducting business - which calls for much more standardisation and structuring of things and that's when you realise how important it is globally to have a single common language which everyone understands. Infact on that parameter, we have a long way to go...

If there's one good thing that happened from the vast and long british empire is the spread of english. God bless them for that...

I feel like laughing when people say that just because the french president speaks in french when he speaks in public or the chinese president speaks in chinese when he is in public - that's a sign of how much pride they have in their language, and we should do the same. What crap.
If we are addressing a global audience, there is absolutely no reason why we should speak in Hindi. We should speak the truly global language - English. But, if you are addressing an indian audience by all means use the local language (again what language you will use even there is a question - use Hindi and you run the risk of annoying/not reaching the people in southern states!).

So, in conclusion English is important and more important than we realise (I just realised how under appreciative I was of this language) and thank god for it!

That's it for now...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Objective of Life – II

The reason for writing this part II is because part I does not explain fully my thinking.

Firstly, it leaves an impression that I don’t respect people who have succeeded in their life – people who are widely acclaimed to be amongst the top in their professions. Well, this is only partly true.

It is true in the sense that I probably don’t respect these gentlemen as much as the average person does. But it’s untrue in the sense that I do not respect them. I certainly respect these guys, these guys have done well (precisely how well, and whether actually well enough to justify the respect/money they command - thats another question).

You see there’s a huge amount of survivorship bias out there when we see at these so called ‘successful people’. The successful people are survivor's first, skills, talent etc comes later on.

Let me give an example – Imagine 2 cricketer’s (A&B) starting their career at the same time. At the end of 10 games their scores are like this:

A – 0,0,0,0,0,100,100,100,100,100
B – 100,100,100,100,100,0,0,0,0,0

Other things being the same, you cannot conclude which of the two players A or B are better – you just can’t. However how likely are you to see the scores of player A? Are they as likely to be as the scores of player B? the answer is simple ‘NO’. Player A after scoring five consecutive ducks is more likely to be dropped from the team than not and thus he never gets the opportunity to score the five consecutive centuries that he otherwise could have. While player B is overwhelmingly like to get the opportunity of scoring the 5 consecutive ducks.

Thus player B survives after game 5, while player A finds himself losing out (and recollect that we cannot definitely say which of the two is a better player - the pattern of their scores being purely down to chance).

I admit that this example is slightly exaggerated, but we see this survivorship in real life. Take cricket itself for example. A new player is selected,–he gets to play a series and if he does badly: he is dropped, else he survives to play another series. And once the player establishes himself, he can afford to have a few bad series without the risk of getting dropped (notice the difference – only if you have survived a few seasons). How many Saurav Ganguly or Marvan Attapattu’s of the world do we see in real life – not many. Both these players had pathetic starts to their careers - but they then went on to become some of the best cricketers of their time – such examples are very rare.

This logic applies to all other areas. A student has to do well in the entrance exam and if she survives that he gets entry into a good college – and even if he does badly there, that college badge ensures that he starts off his career with an advantage over a person who did badly at the entrance test but did exceedingly in the not so ‘well known’ college he went to. Same logic applies to your job, business etc…

Another problem (referred to in passing above) is that success breeds success. So given two people, one having survived for longer and another a fresher and both faced with the same situation, the survivor has a higher probability of further surviving than the fresher.

In business terms this is commonly referred to as network effect. A classic example of such is a company like Microsoft. The more windows OS it sells, the harder it becomes for its competitors to penetrate the market. However this effect is more prevalent that commonly understood.

In sports for example a bad year by an established player is passed off as bad-form, but a bad series by a lesser established player and cries for him to be dropped from the team get louder.

In business, an existing company getting into a new business has a better chance of survival than a new company entering the business world per se – simply because of the network of contacts it has developed, financial standing and credibility it commands etc. Thus even if a new company has a better product/service, it stands in a relatively unfavourable position when competing against a existing company vis-à-vis another new entrant.

Things are worse in a country like India due to its red tape and bureaucracy. The domination of large business families is a very good pointer towards it. Notice that the onset of reform process, unshackling of controls etc, paved way for more entrepreneurs entering the business space.

Children of better off parents get to go to better schools (irrespective of whether their children deserve to go their on merit), while children of financially not so better of parents are not that privileged. Indeed children of beggars don’t get to go to school at all. If your parents are successful, you have a better probability of success. Even if you are born with Einstein’s brain in a beggar’s family, there’s very little you can do about it. And of course, you don’t get to choose things like your gender, place of birth, your parents, their financial background etc – which make a hell of a lot of difference to where you end up in life. You may be born as mentally/physically challenged – that’s a stroke of chance as well.

So in conclusion, I would just like to repeat a quote which one of my professors used in one of his classes which aptly describe my views on this topic

“Success commands explanation, Failure permits none”

That’s it for now….

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Objective of Life - I

This is one question the answer for which everybody wants but very few, if any, have it. What is few, if any, have it. Waybody wants but very few, if any, have it. What is the end purpose of life? Let me try and address this question from my view point – which in no way claims to be ‘the end purpose of life? Let me try and answer this question from my perspective. I must admit however that I do not claim my view to be complete or final in any way. It has evolved and will continue to evolve. Indeed it has undergone dramatic change over the past few years.

Firstly, let me say that there is no objective or end purpose of life. Life just exists because it exists. People who look towards some divine or supernatural reasons for existence of life are likely to be shocked by this – but that’s what it is, life did not appear on this planet with any specific purpose. Indeed when living beings procreate and give birth, the new born does not appear on this planet with any purpose.

However, human beings need some purpose to live. They need some goal in mind with which to carry on ‘living’. What is it that I want to achieve in life? – That’s a question I often ask myself. My answers to this question have been changing.

Initially I wanted respect in life. I wanted my name to appear in newspapers, magazines etc. I wanted to be interviewed on television. That to me was respect. Then my answer changed. I wanted to be rich. Until then I considered the thought of wanting to make money as perverse (I did have some communist inclinations few early on - no more!).

However off-late I find myself increasingly being sold by the randomness theory. Increasingly I believe that a lot (a hell of a lot) that happens to us is governed by pure chance (note the use of words – I say chance not fate or destiny). I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with one of my cousin a few years back where I had argued that there is no such thing as luck/chance. A man makes his own luck. If you are not successful in life (success defined in terms of respect/money as in above) then you have failed and that is because you are simply not good enough. How far I have come from that - seriously at times I laugh at the statements/views I had held a few years back. Indeed I today believe that it is to a large extent meaningless to look at the life of a given single person – it is largely a function of chance.

In the last few years I have seen lots of random shocks being subjected to people I knew which has pushed them back from achieving success in conventional terms or has taken them close to achieving it. I myself have benefited from such randomness in a positive sense. And a few of my friends have unfortunately been at the receiving end of chance.

It is but natural for many to think that I hold this view because I have myself failed in life (failed in conventional sense) – far from it. As mentioned above, I consider myself incredibly lucky. Today in a country of a billion people, I am on most parameters in top 5%. I cannot thank luck enough for that. But I equally know that this day shall pass and some day luck will not go my way – that’s OK.

So what do I think objective of life is? Well, my current view does not come from within me. I read it in ‘Fooled by Randomness’ and I immediately liked it. It said that given life’s nature – it being governed by chance, the objective should be to face that without losing dignity.

It is essential that irrespective of what chance delivers us, we keep our dignity. So if do not go bonkers if all of a sudden we are faced with grave incurable disease or you lose your fortune or you win a fortune.

I have seen my friend lose both his parents in a span of a year, having to leave his higher studies incomplete – but yet not lose his composure, not appear helpless (when in fact to a large extent he was). This to me is not losing dignity of life.

I have seen a someone coming from a not well to do financial background, not very highly educated, brought up not in city getting married into a financially well-off family - but maintain that humility that she had. that to me is not losing dignity of life.

I have seen a lady being bed-ridden for better part of 2 decades and that to in her late 30s early 40s – but always greet me with a smile, always enquiring about others, wishing them well, giving children sweets when they came. Was she helpless, yes she was, did fate deal a cruel blow to her, of course it did - but she maintained her dignity.

It was so easy for all of them to give up and lose dignity - but its to their credit that they did not. They are successful people.

Another important thing – maintaining dignity also earns you respect. Respect not in the sense that you are interviewed or you are covered in newspaper or magazine. But respect in a much deeper sense. Your word counts, your presence counts and is cherished. People listen to you; they want you to talk to them. That to me is real respect.

Well, I don’t know if I will be able to maintain dignity when chance deals a blow to me (sooner or later it surely will!) – but I will try

That’s it for now…

P.S - Part II to follow