Elections 2009: Voting Day

Even as Mumbai goes to the polls today as part of Phase 3 of the five-phased election process, I was thinking of why urban Indian doesn’t vote in larger numbers. (For the record, I have voted in every election in India since my return to India from the US in May 1992.)

There is a significant apathy that is there in urban India. It is a combination of the quality of candidates, the disenchantment with all political parties and a general distaste with all things political. There is a feeling that one’s vote will make absolutely no difference. This apathy is complemented by the cumbersome voter registration process. There are many I know who won’t be able to vote because their name is not on the electoral rolls.

Even while there needs to be a simplification of the voter registration process, we in urban India need to get past our apathy and start engaging with the political process. That is a small and necessary first step towards a multi-year effort reinventing India’s political process and governance. Participation, and not Abstention, is the Solution.

UPDATE at 9:45 am: I guess I spoke too early. My name was missing in the Voter list in South Mumbai. All other members from my family (father, mother, wife, sister) were listed – but not me. So, I couldn’t vote. I checked another adjacent booth, but no luck. I think what has happened is that my wife’s and my electoral records have gotten merged — her middle name and first name have gotten interchanged (so it reads as Rajesh Bhavna Jain), my age has become her age, and the gender is shown as female. Considering that both of us have voted in every previous election with our Voter ID cards, this was a shocker. One of the persons at the booth said I will have to go through the whole registration process again. So, this is a complete anti-climax and a big disappointment. Something seems wrong in this voter registration and list management process. Little did I expect that I would be among the non-voters today!

Push-based Customer Communications

An interesting idea that can emerge is the ability to let a business communicate effectively with its customers (present or future) via push-based channels. After all, it is customers that generate the revenue. This is what Google enables a business to do – get new customers to a website. Google does it for businesses that have an online presence. But it does nothing for businesses that may not have an online presence – and that is one of the opportunities that we can tap into. It can also work well as an awareness spreading tool.

Here is how it would work. A Customer is identified by an Address — either an email ID or a mobile number. These two may or may not be linked. The customer address (email ID, mobile number) may also have certain Attributes linked with it. In addition, a customer can also be given an opportunity to enhance their profile. <any such Customer Addresses make up a Database. A database can be created for a business in one of four ways: existing DB (semi-opt-in), future DB (built around opt-in), dynamic DB (built via queries run on a set of Addresses), media DB (like MyToday SMS).

Communication to this database happens primarily via Push-based channels — email and SMS. This is perhaps the biggest change in India in the past five years. Today, over 350 million Indians have mobile phones and 75 million Indians have email addresses — both these numbers are many times what the equivalent numbers were in 2004.

The key question: how to make this Push-based Customer Communications a reality? This is one business that could scale well globally, with India being the first market.

Corporate Governance Quote

I was part of a panel on Corporate Governance organised by India Knowledge@Wharton last week in Delhi. Paul Beckett, the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Delhi, was part of the editors’ panel which did the questioning. In an article on the Wall Street Journal site, he quotes me:

“Even as we talk about corporate governance, people feel they can get away with corruption at multiple levels,” said Rajesh Jain, chief executive of Netcore Solutions, at a discussion Friday organized in Delhi by Knowledge@Wharton. “If the King is bad, the people think they can get away with it.”

I am hoping IKW will put up a transcript soon of the engaging discussion that took place.

News and Current Affairs Magazines

India has a variety of current affairs magazines which make for good reading to get the background into the political landscape. There are the market leaders, India Today and Outlook. Then, there is The Week, with its more youthful tinge. I don’t get to see Frontline much in Mumbai. Two interesting ones are Tehelka and The Caravan — they tend to have stories one is not likely to read elsewhere. A new weekly has joined the crowd, Open.

I like the magazines because they tend to give more perspective into the happenings. TV has become too soundbitish and repetitive, while the newspapers have to focus on the here and now. That leaves magazines with a good space to fill.

I don’t have favourities in this lot — there is no standout. What I like is the diversity of options available.

Blog Past: City Wi-Fi Networks

This idea from 2006 to unwire India will probably get done in a different way (3G, WiMax): “One of the challenges facing India for last mile connectivity to homes and offices is the stranglehold that the government owned telcos (BSNL and MTNL) have. While both are now pushing DSL to the home, the pace of deployment is not as rapid as India needs. In this context, what is interesting are the plans by many cities in the US to deploy wireless networks to provide a blanket of connectivity. This has two implications for India: first, we should be looking at similar technologies and plans; and second, the US deployment (along with usage in other international cities) will drive the cost of equipment lower making it much more affordable. Given India’s lack of legacy network infrastructure, city Wi-Fi networks make a lot of sense.”

In emerging markets like India, there are five elements that need to come together to provide an end-to-end solution for computing and connectivity.

First, build a city-wide wireless mesh network. This will provide the connectivity fabric and provide an alternative to getting DSL or cable (or waiting for WiMax). The key price point for this connectivity needs to be around Rs 200-250 ($4.50-$5.50) per month.

Second, use a variety of access devices to connect to the network. These could be PCs or network computers. (One of the companies I have helped co-found, Novatium, has just such a solution – the Nova NetPC.) We will also see mobile devices like the Nokia 770 and phones with Wi-Fi built in connecting to the mesh network.

Third, provide a backend computing and storage grid. This helps centralise computing and provides for seamless mobility for users. It also makes computing much more affordable and manageable.

Fourth, provide applications and content from a centralised grid to users over the wireless mesh networks.

Finally, use advertising to reduce the price that users have to pay for the service.

The key is to be able to offer the base service for no more than $10 (Rs 450) a month for the entire solution (device, connectivity and services), with additional revenue possible through value-added services.

Elections 2009: A Unique Experience — Part 5: Optmism Ahead

Over the past couple months, I have got an opportunity to interact with many senior leaders in the BJP. Few have fitted into the classical, negative impressions that we have had drilled down about politicians in India. Maybe, I was just lucky. But I do believe that India has hope – and the worst of our governance nightmares are behind us. Politicians work under a wide array of conflicting expectations. There are many who are out there to do genuine good, and who have dedicated a lifetime to being in politics.Maybe, the bad of the breed still out number the good, but I do think the tide is shifting. And that is a good sign of India. Good Governance and Development is rapidly replacing caste and votebank arithmetic as the way to success in elections. In that sense, accountability is already coming in. Just like employees who fear being fired, politicians in power cannot do without it – so they are quickly realising that delivering on promises and improving the lot of people is the only way to get re-elected. And if Bihar can do it, so can any state in India.

We still have a long way to go. And this is where we in Middle India have to rise to the occasion. We need to be ready to devote 1-2 hours a week to engage with the political system. What is needed is a framework to make that happen at the local level across the country. We have to participate in nation-building because India cannot lose more time. And this is what I have been brainstorming with my colleagues in “Friends of BJP.”

Elections 2009: A Unique Experience — Part 4: Memories

There are a few memories that will stay on with me long after the elections are over:

  • The first 30-person meeting with we had in late January at the residence of Piyush Goyal from which the idea of “Friends of BJP” emerged – people spoke up openly about what they thought India needed. The passion that came through that India made me believe that there is an energy that needed to be channeled.
  • The first Friends of BJP event that we did at NSCI on Jan 29 – and where I started proceedings by speaking passionately on why I had decided to be vocal and speak up in favour of the BJP. It was my first semi-political speech!
  • The satisfaction on seeing a full Ravindra Natya Mandir in Mumbai for the first public meeting that we did on Feb 28, with Arun Jaitley as the main speaker. Till people actually showed up, we had no idea how many people would come as a result of all our outreach activities.
  • The first Delhi event we did in Mar 26 had an overflowing FICCI Auditorium. Everything was just about perfect – the venue, the audience, the speeches, the ‘atmosphere’.
  • The Goa event with Ravi Shankar Prasad was a delight – because of the interactivity we had. It was a lovely open-air setting, and Ravi Shankar Prasad answered every question. It would have been hard for an undecided voter not to have been swayed.
  • Our small, informal core team meetings – with their fair share of banter. A group of people who didn’t even know of each other before started bonding and working together as a team.

Reading the comments that have come in from readers on the Friends of BJP website. The question for us now is: how do we tap into the energy that is out there, and sustain it beyond May 16 to create something more substantial?

Tomorrow: Optimism Ahead

Elections 2009: A Unique Experience — Part 3: Writings

During this period, there were a number of posts that I wrote related to the Elections. Here is a list of all of them. (In case you missed them, I would especially recommend reading the ones prefixed with an asterisk.)

Tomorrow: Memories

Elections 2009: A Unique Experience — Part 2: Friends’ Progress

What were our beliefs in “Friends of BJP”? Here is a summary:

  • Activate and Engage Educated Civil Society
  • Middle India is India’s largest votebank and the most neglected “minority”
  • We do not support or agree with the party line on every  issues
  • Over time, we can make a difference in 120+ urban constituencies
  • An opportunity to “Reclaim the Successful” and Modernise the Party
  • Beyond the Elections: Thought Leadership and Watchdog
  • Bring about change, not over generations but within a few election cycles

How has our progress been?

  • 20+ public meetings attended by over 25,000 people across India
  • Another 15-20 meetings planned in next 3 weeks
  • Our Website is the second largest political website in India after LKAdvani.in, in terms of traffic
  • More than 50K people have visited the website
  • Over 50K have opted in to receive updates on SMS and Email
  • Website gets 100+ comments daily (with a total so far of nearly 4,000)
  • Website has 2-3 new articles published daily
  • Over 5,000 have volunteered through website and the public meetings
  • Links to articles, SMSes and Emails are constantly being forwarded
  • Also present on Facebook, Orkut, Twitter and YouTube
  • Almost all growth has been viral / word-of-mouth
  • Hundreds of small meetings being organised nationally
  • Manifesto inputs provided (and some incorporated)

Not bad for what started out from a conversation between a couple people just about three months ago. 

We may be able to make only a small difference this election, but I think we have set in motion a movement that will be unstoppable – and can make a fundamental difference in improving India’s polity and governance in the next decade.

Tomorrow: Writings

Elections 2009: A Unique Experience — Part 1: The Decision

As the election process makes its way to the finish line, I decided that this would be a good time to look back at the past couple months. I am seeing this election much closer than ever before. In the late 1990s, when I was running IndiaWorld, I was involved in covering the elections on the Internet. This time around, I have been reading a lot more about what’s happening and also participating in various events through the “Friends of BJP” movement that I started with a few others.

When I look back, in Jaunary, I assumed that all I would do this election was to go and vote. Little did I realise then that I would become a far more active participant – part of a small, growing group in “Middle India” who wants to engage with politics because silence is not the answer. I made the decision then to support the BJP – and outlined my reasons in a blog post.

Thus was born “Friends of BJP.” When we started, we had no idea how we would manage to grow it. But there was a deep desire amongst us to be able to take the first steps to making a difference. We all had different motivations, but were united with the belief that “India Deserves Better.”

Tomorrow: Friends’ Progress

Blog Past: Disruptions

I wrote this in 2005: “Disruptions are technological shifts which provide opportunity for newcomers to take on incumbents – and perhaps usurp power. It happens all the time. Today’s king is not guaranteed to be tomorrow’s emperor – we have seen this in history and politics, and we see it in business also. While at times, corporations themselves hasten their downfall by questionable decisions (in retrospect), at other times entrepreneurial start-ups with some luck rapidly make their way to the top. There is no magic formula for success. But understanding disruptions and key trends can help avoid mistakes that can accelerate failure.”

I strongly believe that we in India have an opportunity to build the next Black Swan, a company that in 3-5 years can be as important as Google is being seen today. Keeping a perspective of the future world that we want to create is necessary so that we make the right decisions as we work towards building it.

The three key building blocks for my thinking about the future are broadband, mobility and emerging markets. Broadband will enable on-demand, net-native services. Mobility will empower users with computers in their pockets. Much of this future will begin and spread faster in emerging markets because they have very little legacy.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • Fix The [US] Grid: From Wired.  “We must fix the grid—reinvent it to be reliable, efficient, responsive, and smart.”
  • Why Business Needs to Get Social: From Forbes. “Social technologies are reshaping the way business is conducted.”
  • India’s Jumbo Election: From The Economist. “In 543 constituencies, 4,617 candidates, representing some 300 parties, will compete for the ballots of an electorate of 714m eligible voters. In 828,804 polling stations, 1,368,430 simple, robust and apparently tamper-proof electronic voting machines will be deployed. It is hard not to be impressed by the process—and its resilience.”
  • Health Care and Technology: A special report in The Economist. “The convergence of biology and engineering is turning health care into an information industry. That will be disruptive, but also hugely beneficial to patients.”
  • Future of Social Payment Platforms: by Jeremy Liew. “The future is bright for these platforms, but there are some clouds on the horizon.”

Letter to a 4-year-old (Part 5)

Dear Abhishek,

Nowadays I don’t get to spend as much time with you as before  because of work and travel. I cherish the time when we are together. You are so full of questions – and now your questions  are deeper. I  answer every question you ask. But  of course, you then have more of them. It amazes me that you remember so many things without bothering to take notes (unlike me)!

We haven’t pushed you into anything. We’ve let you live your childhood on your own terms. And it should be that way for every kid. We let you discover the world, ask questions, get answers, ponder over them, and then ask  the same questions again! You then start putting things together, and making your own interpretations. Like, just the other day when you wanted to go to God’s House and not be born a Jain because you wanted to eat non-veg like your cousins do. But when you realised that you’d not have the same Mom, you changed your mind. For you, Mummy is Everything.

You don’t have a sibling, but there are plenty of kids around. At home, you play (and fight) a lot with Siddharth and Maya every day. Most Sundays, we go to your grandparents’ house where you play with Hriday, your uncle’s son. In fact, Hriday brings out the naughtiness in you. It is amazing to see what the two of you together are capable of doing!

There are times in meetings and at work where I feel like just leaving everything and coming home to you – and just letting you tell me what you want to do. You love bossing me around – and I let you do that. (You don’t try that with your Mom, though – you know what will happen!) The couple hours we get together in the morning and evening I let you decide what you want to do – reading, printing some car pictures, watching some videos, playing “Name Place Animal Thing”, going to a bookshop, car-watching at the petrol pump.

These are wonderful years for you – and for us. And I hope it stays like this. As you grow up and go into the big school, your friends and teachers are the ones who will guide you more. At home, your Mummy and I are always there for you.

Happy Birthday, Abhishek.

Letter to a 4-year-old (Part 4)

Dear Abhishek,

There are plenty of memories of the year gone by.

Like last April when I returned from my US trip (I had missed your birthday), you were sitting on the staircase at 11:30 pm waiting for me to open all the toys. (And this was after telling  me not to buy any toys since you had everything!)

Like the day last May when you hit me and refused to say sorry, steadfastly looking in the other direction. Your ego stood in the way. You knew you  were wrong, but something held you back from apologising. We finally made up, but it was I who took the first step.

Like the Singapore trip in June – which was about buying toys (mostly vehicles) and afternoon sleep as your Mummy walked the shops. That was the trip in which we discovered togetherness as we spent four whole days with each other. We walked through Singapore Zoo – and you could not have been more disinterested! Luckily, it started raining and we came back to the hotel. On the last day, I forgot our bag in the taxi with the camera, and you didn’t let me forget that for a long time!

Like the craze for jigsaw puzzles after the Singapore trip (where we had bought a couple nice ones). Morning and night, all we did were  those puzzles! For a brief time, all three of us were doing different jigsaw puzzles at home!

Like when you first started using the computer mouse around August. You then started navigating UptoTen.com (and now, YouTube for the Pixar Cars videos) on your own. Suddenly, you didn’t need me!

Like the time a few months ago when you did away with your afternoon nap on most days. That meant that I’d miss seeing you at night if I came home after 7:30 pm. But in the bargain, you got a good, continuous 11-hour sleep.

Like the visit to Palitana when you climbed the 4,000 steps to the top. That was quite something. I never expected you to even get halfway on your own. But your Mom’s determination made you walk up on your own.

Like when you slept on the Songadh train platform (on our way back from Palitana) since our train was a couple hours late. And in the anxiety to get in, I almost left you on the platform in the crowd!

Like the time when we went to Crossword bookshop (we go there almost every week), and you picked a book and asked me, “Papa, is this a study book?” Excitedly, I answered Yes. You then put it back, answering, “Then, I don’t want it.” Your non-academic interest became quite clear then!

Like your love for music and your make-belief piano playing makes me hope that you will do something different in life. As your Mummy and I have decided, we will not impose any of  our dreams on you. You are free to chart  your own course in life.

Like the time when you started playing with my iPhone. You had a peculiar fascination for the Weather and Time in various cities. I never quite figured this one out. You finally moved on to a Cars game on the iPhone.

Like when on Dassera Day you had a convulsion. You scared us all. Thankfully, that was a one-off, and  you were fine after that.

Like the Pune trip we took at Diwali time. You played with everyone. We started seeing the first glimpses of the Social Abhi.

Like the look on your Mummy’s face you first told her, “Have Patience.” And the like on my face when you looked at a car (it was your uncle’s Toyota Corolla Altis) and said, “Awesome.” Where do you learn all this from?

Like our phase in between where we were completely into the Curious George books. I had got a few of them from my US trips, and we were reading these stories every day. You knew it all, yet you wanted me to read it!

Like the time when you asked your Mummy if you could get a baby sister.

Like how smart you looked when you went for your school concert.

Like the days when you’d create patterns with a hundred vehicles on the bed before going to sleep. And then, I had to quietly remove them after you fell asleep.

Like after the New Era school interview you came out and before we could ask you what they asked you, you fired at us, “What did they ask you?” All that your parents could do was to look at each other.

And so it goes on and on. Memories which fade with time because you grow every day. Memories which come back as we see you grow.

(Continued tomorrow)

Letter to a 4-year-old (Part 3)

Dear Abhishek,

You are currently into car magazines, and especially have a fondness for Volkswagens. We even went the other day to their showroom to check the Jetta and Passat out. When we are out on the road, your eyes are constantly searching for VW cars. You go through car magazines identifying all the cars, and to the consternation of your Mom, even reeling out the number of stars the magazines have given the different cars.

While all this is going on in your life, you still need your Mom to get you to drink your milk and eat your food. Thankfully this year, you gave up on the straw for the milk. But you still cannot get yourself to sit at the dining table for your meals. Your morning milk comes to the bedroom, your breakfast and lunch is eaten watching TV (CBeebies from the BBC), and your dinner is eaten with your cousins (my sister’s kids – 7-year-old Siddharth and five-year-old Maya) roaming around the Hall. Fortunately you eat a wider variety of food than I do – I shudder to think what your Mom would have done had you been as fussy as me!

As has been since your birth, your Mom is everything for you. That one look from her is good enough to tell you how she is feeling and what you should be doing next. Your happiest moments are always with her – rolling in bed, fawning over her, jumping on her back, or just affectionately hugging her. She is also your taskmaster – you will do anything for that one hug from her. So, that keeps you in check! Though I have to say that she gives you all the freedom in the world as long as you stay within certain boundaries.

This is also the year you have learnt to be away from her. She goes to the office a couple of hours a day twice a week. You hang around at home – playing, sometimes sleeping, but managing without her. Of course, when you are over-sleepy as happens sometimes, the only person who can handle you is your Mom!

(Continued tomorrow)

Letter to a 4-year-old (Part 2)

Dear Abhishek,

I also hope you will develop some nice and deep friendships – for that is what matters most. (Like you know from McQueen and Mater’s friendship in the “Cars” books and movie.) We’ve laid the foundation, now your teachers and friends will build on that. Their influence on you will, going ahead, probably be much more than ours. So, choose your friends with care.

Moving on to other fun things, what matters most to you now is “Cars.” Cars, the movie. Cars, the book. And all sorts of Cars toys from the movie. We’ve already got 11 of them (Mater x 2, McQueen x 2, Doc, Sally, Ramone, The King, Chick Hicks, Chuki and Fillmore). Unknown to you, I have a few more waiting for you in my cupboard – you almost discovered them recently! We ration these toys to you at one a week. You watch Cars the movie three times a week. You know every scene now. It has filled your life. You learn life through the characters in the movie and your questions on their relationships. And I must admit, I too like the movie!

Before that, it was Snakes. Snakes in books. I don’t remember how it started – I think we were reading one of those books on Natural Habitat, and of all the creatures in the book, you took a fancy to the snakes. After that, we built up one of the largest snakes book collections any three-and-a-half-year-old would have ever had! And to the utmost discomfort of your mother, snakes were the only discussion topic at home. Luckily, you didn’t want to get pets at home!

For a brief time, you had a love affair with the Planets – all 11 of them, including the 3 dwarf planets of Pluto, Ceres and Eris. We’d keep reading how the Sun looked so small from Neptune, how Venus had a killer atmosphere, and what the rings of Saturn were made up of. You never tired of reading the same books again and again – and again. You even knew when a sleepy me would skip a sentence!

(Continued tomorrow)

Letter to a 4-year-old

Dear Abhishek,

This letter continues the tradition of writing to you every year on your birthday that I had started when you were born. Hopefully, one day, you will read these letters and be able to relive your childhood days.

Your fourth year has been an absolute delight – for you and for us, your parents. You are now so full of life, questions and comments on everything.  Every moment is to be enjoyed – with no care of what is to come. Every day is to be lived fully – from early in the morning (sometimes, too early) to late  into the night.

You interact with the world on your own terms. You now lock the door when you go to the bathroom. You have memorised my mobile number and call me whenever you feel like – mostly to ask me if I have seen one of your missing toys. You navigate through Google Images with ease to identify your favourite cars for printouts which you neatly file away in a folder. You interact with the TV and DVD player with an ease that is a little scary! In short, that little Abhi who lay in bed helpless four years ago is now getting ready for the world.

For us, the biggest challenge this year was finding a school for you. I had missed getting the Cathedral form a few years ago, and you didn’t get into Dhirubhai Ambani (which anyway was too far from home). So, we had all our hopes on New Era (Aditya Birla World Academy) – it was just perfect for you. It was co-ed, walking distance from home, and had the IGCSE curriculum which meant that you wouldn’t need to spend the next dozen years cramming textbooks. Considering that anything that is remotely linked to studying is anathema to you, we wanted you to attend New Era.

Our first interview went well. You came out smiling with a chocolate in hand. Unknown to you, your parents had just participated in a group discussion with some other parents. The second interview where you were with us wasn’t that great – you insisted on answering every question with an “I don’t know” even when you knew the answer. Only a little prodding got it out of you. And they stuck to your favourite topics – cars, snakes and planets. (More on that later.) You got quite a talking to from your Mom after that interview. Of course, it made no difference to you.

So, it was a big relief when a few weeks later, we got the admission confirmation. You will join LKG in July. We hope you like the school we’ve selected for you. It is where you will be till you are 16. I hope you have some great teachers like I had  so you can learn how to learn – that is perhaps the most important ability that you will need  in today’s world.

I also hope you will develop some nice and deep friendships – for that is what matters most. (Like you know from McQueen and Mater’s friendship in the “Cars” books and movie.) We’ve laid the foundation, now your teachers and friends will build on that. Their influence on you will, going ahead, probably be much more than ours. So, choose your friends with care.

Moving on to other fun things, what matters most to you now is “Cars.” Cars, the movie. Cars, the book. And all sorts of Cars toys from the movie. We’ve already got 11 of them (Mater x 2, McQueen x 2, Doc, Sally, Ramone, The King, Chick Hicks, Chuki and Fillmore). Unknown to you, I have a few more waiting for you in my cupboard – you almost discovered them recently! We ration these toys to you at one a week. You watch Cars the movie three times a week. You know every scene now. It has filled your life. You learn life through the characters in the movie and your questions on their relationships. And I must admit, I too like the movie!

Before that, it was Snakes. Snakes in books. I don’t remember how it started – I think we were reading one of those books on Natural Habitat, and of all the creatures in the book, you took a fancy to the snakes. After that, we built up one of the largest snakes book collections any three-and-a-half-year-old would have ever had! And to the utmost discomfort of your mother, snakes were the only discussion topic at home. Luckily, you didn’t want to get pets at home!

For a brief time, you had a love affair with the Planets – all 11 of them, including the 3 dwarf planets of Pluto, Ceres and Eris. We’d keep reading how the Sun looked so small from Neptune, how Venus had a killer atmosphere, and what the rings of Saturn were made up of. You never tired of reading the same books again and again – and again. You even knew when a sleepy me would skip a sentence!

You are currently into car magazines, and especially have a fondness for Volkswagens. We even went the other day to their showroom to check the Jetta and Passat out. When we are out on the road, your eyes are constantly searching for VW cars. You go through car magazines identifying all the cars, and to the consternation of your Mom, even reeling out the number of stars the magazines have given the different cars.

While all this is going on in your life, you still need your Mom to get you to drink your milk and eat your food. Thankfully this year, you gave up on the straw for the milk. But you still cannot get yourself to sit at the dining table for your meals. Your morning milk comes to the bedroom, your breakfast and lunch is eaten watching TV (CBeebies from the BBC), and your dinner is eaten with your cousins (my sister’s kids – 7-year-old Siddharth and five-year-old Maya) roaming around the Hall. Fortunately you eat a wider variety of food than I do – I shudder to think what your Mom would have done had you been as fussy as me!

As has been since your birth, your Mom is everything for you. That one look from her is good enough to tell you how she is feeling and what you should be doing next. Your happiest moments are always with her – rolling in bed, fawning over her, jumping on her back, or just affectionately hugging her. She is also your taskmaster – you will do anything for that one hug from her. So, that keeps you in check! Though I have to say that she gives you all the freedom in the world as long as you stay within certain boundaries.

This is also the year you have learnt to be away from her. She goes to the office a couple of hours a day twice a week. You hang around at home – playing, sometimes sleeping, but managing without her. Of course, when you are over-sleepy as happens sometimes, the only person who can handle you is your Mom!

There are plenty of memories of the year gone by.

Like last April when I returned from my US trip (I had missed your birthday), you were sitting on the staircase at 11:30 pm waiting for me to open all the toys. (And this was after telling  me not to buy any toys since you had everything!)

Like the day last May when you hit me and refused to say sorry, steadfastly looking in the other direction. Your ego stood in the way. You knew you  were wrong, but something held you back from apologising. We finally made up, but it was I who took the first step.

Like the Singapore trip in June – which was about buying toys (mostly vehicles) and afternoon sleep as your Mummy walked the shops. That was the trip in which we discovered togetherness as we spent four whole days with each other. We walked through Singapore Zoo – and you could not have been more disinterested! Luckily, it started raining and we came back to the hotel. On the last day, I forgot our bag in the taxi with the camera, and you didn’t let me forget that for a long time!

Like the craze for jigsaw puzzles after the Singapore trip (where we had bought a couple nice ones). Morning and night, all we did were  those puzzles! For a brief time, all three of us were doing different jigsaw puzzles at home!

Like when you first started using the computer mouse around August. You then started navigating UptoTen.com (and now, YouTube for the Pixar Cars videos) on your own. Suddenly, you didn’t need me!

Like the time a few months ago when you did away with your afternoon nap on most days. That meant that I’d miss seeing you at night if I came home after 7:30 pm. But in the bargain, you got a good, continuous 11-hour sleep.

Like the visit to Palitana when you climbed the 4,000 steps to the top. That was quite something. I never expected you to even get halfway on your own. But your Mom’s determination made you walk up on your own.

Like when you slept on the Songadh train platform (on our way back from Palitana) since our train was a couple hours late. And in the anxiety to get in, I almost left you on the platform in the crowd!

Like the time when we went to Crossword bookshop (we go there almost every week), and you picked a book and asked me, “Papa, is this a study book?” Excitedly, I answered Yes. You then put it back, answering, “Then, I don’t want it.” Your non-academic interest became quite clear then!

Like your love for music and your make-belief piano playing makes me hope that you will do something different in life. As your Mummy and I have decided, we will not impose any of  our dreams on you. You are free to chart  your own course in life.

Like the time when you started playing with my iPhone. You had a peculiar fascination for the Weather and Time in various cities. I never quite figured this one out. You finally moved on to a Cars game on the iPhone.

Like when on Dassera Day you had a convulsion. You scared us all. Thankfully, that was a one-off, and  you were fine after that.

Like the Pune trip we took at Diwali time. You played with everyone. We started seeing the first glimpses of the Social Abhi.

Like the look on your Mummy’s face you first told her, “Have Patience.” And the look on my face when you looked at a car (it was your uncle’s Toyota Corolla Altis) and said, “Awesome.” Where do you learn all this from?

Like our phase in between where we were completely into the Curious George books. I had got a few of them from my US trips, and we were reading these stories every day. You knew it all, yet you wanted me to read it!

Like the time when you asked your Mummy if you could get a baby sister.

Like how smart you looked when you went for your school concert.

Like the days when you’d create patterns with a hundred vehicles on the bed before going to sleep. And then, I had to quietly remove them after you fell asleep.

Like after the New Era school interview you came out and before we could ask you what they asked you, you fired at us, “What did they ask you?” All that your parents could do was to look at each other.

And so it goes on and on. Memories which fade with time because you grow every day. Memories which come back as we see you grow.

Nowadays I don’t get to spend as much time with you as before  because of work and travel. I cherish the time when we are together. You are so full of questions – and now your questions  are deeper. I  answer every question you ask. But  of course, you then have more of them. It amazes me that you remember so many things without bothering to take notes (unlike me)!

We haven’t pushed you into anything. We’ve let you live your childhood on your own terms. And it should be that way for every kid. We let you discover the world, ask questions, get answers, ponder over them, and then ask  the same questions again! You then start putting things together, and making your own interpretations. Like, just the other day when you wanted to go to God’s House and not be born a Jain because you wanted to eat non-veg like your cousins do. But when you realised that you’d not have the same Mom, you changed your mind. For you, Mummy is Everything.

You don’t have a sibling, but there are plenty of kids around. At home, you play (and fight) a lot with Siddharth and Maya every day. Most Sundays, we go to your grandparents’ house where you play with Hriday, your uncle’s son. In fact, Hriday brings out the naughtiness in you. It is amazing to see what the two of you together are capable of doing!

There are times in meetings and at work where I feel like just leaving everything and coming home to you – and just letting you tell me what you want to do. You love bossing me around – and I let you do that. (You don’t try that with your Mom, though – you know what will happen!) The couple hours we get together in the morning and evening I let you decide what you want to do – reading, printing some car pictures, watching some videos, playing “Name Place Animal Thing”, going to a bookshop, car-watching at the petrol pump.

These are wonderful years for you – and for us. And I hope it stays like this. As you grow up and go into the big school, your friends and teachers are the ones who will guide you more. At home, your Mummy and I are always there for you.

Happy Birthday, Abhishek.

Previous Letters: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Blog Past: Dotcom Nostalgia

This series from June 2005 was written five years after the dotcom bubble burst. Here is what I wrote in a column in Business World then:

….[A] point I want to make is about entrepreneurs. You have to distinguish between those who go in there motivated only by money and those who go in to change the world. An entrepreneur has to have a little bit of the ‘change the world’ thing in him. If I have to get my passion across, I have to believe that what I am doing is the next big thing. If I don’t believe in it how will I convince others? So you have to paint that picture of tomorrow.

Looking back, I think the most positive aspect of the dotcom boom is that it gave people a flavour of entrepreneurship. People quit well-paying jobs to see what the other side is all about. I wish it had lasted a little longer. Then we would have had a lot of money invested in the Internet business in India. That’s what has happened in China. At least four portals managed to raise $100 million-plus on the IPO offerings. So when the dotcom boom went bust, they had the cash to discover mobile and gaming businesses. Businesses and markets may vanish but these companies had the cash to morph into something different. From these situations emerge the next big ideas. That culture of entrepreneurship would have lasted if we had a lot more ideas.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links: