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Its a Fake!

Where are you, Mr. Pandey?

Weddings in North India are moments of great celebration. Families and friends from far and wide join the bride and groom over many days of fun filled merriment. Food is an integral part of this experience. For the Mathurs (a North Indian Hindu community), food defines the purpose of a wedding! We live to eat, marry to eat and eat our way through moments in life, both happy and sad!
Most traditional Mathur families had their favourite cooks, who would be called in when the occasion demanded. The cooks would arrive a few days before the ceremony and would chart out an elaborate menu. They used to carry their own cooking implements that had been passed down through the generations. It is said that the pots and pans added their own unique flavour to every dish. After much discussion and deliberations (typically over several mouth watering meals), the Mathurs would decide on the menu. What followed was a frenzy of activity where the finest of ingredients would be sourced. Being fond of their food, most families had a direct connection with the source of ingredients and freshness and flavours would consistently be second to none.
The cooks had an amazing repertoire of capabilities. From snacks to pickles to the most delicious deserts and everything in between they had the ability to make every meal a celebration. Our family’s cook was a delightful old gentleman by the name of Gopal Pandey. His age was indeterminate. I thought that he was quite old but his slight frame was a power pack of energy. A meal for a few hundred guests would be prepared with amazing speed and panache. In fact, it was quite a sight to watch his small team orchestrate a sequence of frenetic chopping, vigorous stirring and frying. The old man, bent with age would go about his craft like a virtuoso.
We loved him especially for his ability to weave magic with the meats. His piece de resistance was a dish called badam passanda, which was a sublime combination of blanched almonds and the finest cuts of goat meat which was slow cooked to perfection. The fragrance of the dish was so over whelming that suddenly neighbours who often looked at weddings as social disturbances would be at their civil best. The tragic part of this dish was that no generous estimate could ever satiate its demand and as a kid I was always left wanting a lot more! As a family, I don’t think we ever managed to get the estimates right!
Over the years, I remember Gopal Pandey continuing to cook up a storm and improve his craft further as we navigated through our journey of celebrations. In the early 2000s, the trend shifted to hosting weddings in hotels and farmhouses and his appearances became few and far between. As we got busier, our weddings also got less elaborate and the convenience of hosting it at a hotel or a farmhouse was just too tempting. I don’t recollect having met him for the last decade.

In my recent visit to India, I learnt that as he grew older, his sons decided post their education to get proper ‘office’ jobs and looked down upon their rich culinary legacy. I guess progress is also about moving on and forging a new beginning. However I can’t help but feel nostalgic. The wonderful smell of the badam passandas still lingers…

A One Hour Vacation

It was one of those days. My car was at the workshop getting repaired after an unnecessary crash. It was meant to be delivered in the morning but much to my irritation got delivered in the evening. An obliging colleague had to drop me off at the service station since Uber would have just not been able to make it on time before the workshop closed. Anyway, I picked up my car and headed off to an event that was meant to start at 6.30pm. I normally avoid evening events and prefer to spend time with the family but today was an exception. Typically one encounters heavy office traffic but this evening was unusually smooth and I reached the hotel at 6 pm. I spent the next 30 minutes in the beautiful hotel lobby sipping an indifferent cup of coffee and catching up on my emails. Much to my irritation my iPhone battery soon got drained out. At 6.30pm I reached the event centre only to learn that the event was starting at 7.30pm and my assistant had recorded the timing incorrectly in my calendar. I guess this was just not my day!
I left the event centre in a huff with the intention of going home! As I was walking towards the lobby, I noticed the beautiful beach by which the hotel was built. I found myself mesmerised by the sight of the beautiful blue waters with the setting sun in the backdrop. The sight was a feast to the eyes. At that moment a jetty caught my eye and I decided to walk up to it. The jetty was about 100m into the sea. As I walked on it, I went by hundreds of colourful fish and noticed the beautiful patterns in the sand that the sea drew with the ebb and flow of the tide. The sun had begun to set on the horizon and the colours of the sky continued to host a show extraordinaire. I noticed the world rush by with its sense of purpose and urgency as I sat on the jetty admiring the spectacle.
Time came to a standstill and an hour past in the blink of an eye. A sense of extreme peace filled my being as my one hour vacation concluded. I went back to the event invigorated. I had lived a moment that came by in the most unexpected way. Thank god it did!

We learn from history, that we learn nothing from history!

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history”, remarked George Bernard Shaw. 

I was struck by this thought as I was glancing through the papers full of ISIS, Trump, Oil Crash, Syria, Brexit and more. I was wondering if there’s something that we can learn from our past that can help us navigate through the bewildering times that we live in today. Is our world really any different from what it was in the past? With technology, automation and science, our circumstances may have changed but have human behaviour, values and beliefs changed fundamentally? In this context, are there strategies that have worked in the past that could be equally relevant today?
Here are three strategies from history that have particularly caught my attention:
Doctrine of Lapse
The East India Company under Lord Dalhousie expanded its grip on India with the successful implementation of the controversial ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. It was based on the principle that if a ruler of a dependant state died without a natural heir, the right to rule that state passed on to the British sovereign. Some of the biggest states in India over a period of two decades got annexed to the British empire as a consequence of this strategy.
The brilliance of this strategy was in taking advantage of poorly managed succession planning, which was a norm in those times (and still is!). At the point of vulnerability when a state lost its ruler, it could be deftly annexed without shedding a drop of blood, on the back of determined diplomacy and legislation.
Till today, succession planning is a core structural weakness in the global economy. As more and more wealth gets concentrated amongst individuals and families, passing on wealth successfully from one generation to the next is a matter of luck for most and equally an opportunity for the vultures to nest !
The Germans mastered the concept of the ‘lightening war’ through a deft combination of surprise and speed. Blitzkreig was based on the concept of using mechanised units supported by ground and air forces that would swiftly penetrate the enemy fronts by focused action and cause a complete disarray amongst the enemy lines. A key to this strategy was to create fault lines that would break communication amongst the enemy forces and accelerate the panic by damaging the civil population. This was Hitler’s winning strategy in World War II. The essence of this lightening strike strategy was speed, and still more speed executed with precision.
Today we see YouTube videos capturing public imagination of many millions almost overnight. We see election campaigns that use social media to capture voters’ attention with unprecedented speed and agility. We see hollywood movies employing a blitkreig marketing strategy that leads to a USD 100M+ opening despite a weak story (e.g. Batman v/s Superman). We see cyber attacks and viruses causing a contagion with frightening speed and dexterity resulting in billions of dollars in losses. Yet we see all around us complacent businesses caught in a time warp, leaving their gates wide open for disruption.
Trojan Horse
The Greeks, frustrated by a decade of efforts to conquer Troy, built this magnificent wooden horse that they left at the entrance of the city as they supposedly ‘withdrew’ their forces. The overjoyed residents opened their city gates to welcome this ‘gift’. In the middle of the night as the city celebrated, the soldiers hidden in the horse got out and opened the the city gates leading to the downfall of a proud city state.
Till today, deception is a winning strategy that capitalises on the fundamental human trait of complacency and letting ones guard down on the basis of a thinly veiled veneer of safety and comfort. Uber, Whatsapp, iPhones etc are modern day Trojans that won market shares as their complacent competitors basked warmly in their soon to be extinct success.
I am sure there are many more ideas in our history books that can inspire us to find our way in these times. As an example, the next big thing in technology, ironically, is biometrics (also known as fingerprinting); something which has been in use since the time of the Neanderthals! So discover your Trojan Horse, back it with a blitzkrieg of effort and plan your succession to leave a legacy. Amen!