Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Of Things to Come

How does one sum up a year? For me, this practice of summing up the year has usually been taken in the form of recounting the highlights of what went on and what I think will happen in the years to come. So I guess I’ll have to stick with a tried and tested formula.

On the Professional Front

It was a surprisingly decent year for me on the professional front for both my jobs. The PR front proved to be surprisingly good.

The most prominent of feature on the PR consultancy front was IIMPact 2013: New Frontiers, the bi-annual gathering of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Alumni in Singapore. The event was exceedingly high-profile – as with the previous year’s IIT event, the patron was Singapore’s former President, Mr SR Nathan.
Press coverage was glorious. As well as hitting the local press, I managed to get coverage in the main Indian Dailies as well as in places like the Huffington Post. What success I did achieve was through the good work of journalists like Gautam Srinivasan of Reuters TV, Gurdip Singh of Press Trust India (PTI), Anand Menon of Bloomberg and Sharanjit Leyl of the BBC.

 As with all PR events, IIMPact was very much about the newsmakers, of which the most important was Dr Raghuram Rajan, who was then Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian Government and before the year was out he would become Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. It was my privilege to serve Dr Rajan and for that day I had the honour of witnessing his sharp intellect and wisdom

One of the best things about work is its social aspects. I got the IIMPact job in the same way I got PAN IIT before it – on the recommendation of Supriyo Sircar the SBU Head of Polaris Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa Business for Polaris Financial Technologies. Supriyo has been a good friend and his advocacy of my behalf has been one of the few assets that I’ve had.

I also had the privilege of working with Anu Stamtani. Anu is a dream to work with. Her energy and charm have a way of working magic when it comes to events. She is a good friend who always finds ways of making life easy for other people. It was she who made my job at IIMPact easy in terms of logistics support.
As well as renewing old friendships, I managed to make new friends. I am currently working with Suresh Shankar and Hari Haran, two entrepreneurs who are looking at ways to create a different and better world. Suresh has is set on simplifying the world of big data with her new firm, Crayon Data and Hari is set to help the poorer parts of world deal with one of their key problems – lack of energy.

The most important friendship that I gained from IIMPact 2013 is probably that of its Organising Committee Chairman, Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon and the former Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services Asia-Pacific. At IIMPact 2013, Girija provided encouragement and reminded me of a lesson that few of us seem to understand – bosses and clients are an asset to be utlised. Girija was generous in his time and effort to throw contacts behind me. I will also never forget his main encouragement to me – “Don’t wait for things – you are as good as anyone of us.”

In a funny way, the other main professional highlight was for a job that I didn’t get to work on – the South Asian Diaspora Conference (SADC 2013), which was organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS).

I didn’t get the job – it went to an international agency – Webber Shandwick. But funnily enough, I was actually in the running for it. ISAS, is a part of the National University of Singapore, a government body, which normally doesn’t entertain one-man operations. Yet, the Chairman of ISAS, Ambassador Gopinath Pillai took the time out to listen to me.

A source tells me that I owe this honour of being a one-man show being allowed to present a case to the government body to Girija Pande, who sits on the board of ISAS.

My blue collar persona at Bruno’s had a good year too. I was made the acting manager of the Pizzeria and Grill for a week in early February when the manager of the day went on leave. The success (or the lack of a disaster) was thanks to the team, particularly my service team who provided me with the support that I needed – including watching my back and reminding me that I needed to do things like ensure wines were ordered and we would well supplied for the Chinese New Year season.

I’ve now moved to the quieter Bistrot on Telok Kurau Road, where I’ve had the chance to help boost the turn over. In this year, the team has managed to double revenue from the year before and we are looking forward to doing better next year.

On the Personal Front.

No big trips this year, other than a short family holiday in August. My mother, the perpetual mastermind of family affairs managed to get all of us from various parts of the world galvanized into traveling between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Cambodia was perhaps the most interesting of the three countries. It was the glory of the Angkor Wat followed by the horror of Tul Salang Genocide Museum – a visit that made the vast human energy of Vietnam all the more welcoming.

It’s good to touch base with family and the people who love you no matter what stupid things you do.
My Dad went through his hernia operation at the end of August and has since recovered. Took me out for lunch for my birthday.

The other key moment on the personal front has been the chance to get to know Thuy as a growing woman much better. I often joke with friends that Thuy is God’s way of making me pay for my previous misdeeds with the opposite sex. Thuy retorts that she’s too sensible to get into trouble – I do worry.
She starts a new chapter of her life on the second when she enrolls into Outram Secondary School. I’ve told her that she needs to get her academics right – it will make life easier. Mother is always in the background ready to enforce regular tuition.

It’s challenging managing a growing teen, who is still a child but an adult with ideas of what she wants. However, the challenges of having a child (I use that term loosely – she tells me that she protects me) in your life has a way of giving it purpose. Whenever I find work annoying I’m reminded that while I can live with the consequences of my follies, there’s someone out there who needs me to stay sane. So sane (Once again, that word has to be used lightly) I remain.

Hopes for 2014

More and better work coming in. More importantly, I need to make moves to have another country to provide me with things. Singapore has been home for a decade but life is such that it is becoming a place where all but the very rich seem to enjoy. It’s a particularly demanding place for someone who has survived as a one-man operation. So it looks like 2014 should be a year for me to branch into other places within a region that is growing and has much to offer the world. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Would Jesus Have Gone to Jail in Modern Singapore?

Yesterday was Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder and inspiration of the Christian faith. As usual the world his birthday was celebrated by the conspicuous amounts of shopping and consuming lots of food and alcohol. The great and good who “plan” and “comment” on our economy got their moment to discuss the possibility of whether the “Christmas” factor would help to spur the economy to greater heights and create prosperity for everyone.

Since I live in Singapore and spent my second Christmas in a row over here, I had to ask what Christ would have thought of the consumption in his name. Why is it such that we become obsessed with consumption for the birthday of a man who became God in the eyes of over a billion people by preaching the value of poverty and suffering?

The Christmas of 2013 should also prove significant in as much as it comes after the riots of December 8, 2013 in Little India – an event that involved 400 foreign workers from the Subcontinent. This was Singapore’s first riot in 40-years. It involved what society calls the “lowest-of-the-low.” The great and the good who run the show were quick to denounce the “barbarous” behavior of the rioters. The official stance was that there was “no excuse” to become “violent” and cause “damage to poverty.”

While I like to think that Jesus would never have approved of violent behavior, I do believe that Jesus would have decried and condemned the basic treatment of the conditions that foreign workers live in. My knowledge of Christian theology is 20-years rusty but the Christ that I read about would have deplored the way in which the society I live in for ignoring the fact that our prosperity was built on the back of exploiting the poor and desperate.

In a way I have the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC Who Drinks in the Middle of Ramadan aka Thambi Pundek to thank. He tries to toss out ideas like, “Oi, we’re giving the Indian labourers a better life,” and “Wah – the Bangla go onto the MRT – so smelly.” Apparently there is also something called “inbuilt migrant resentment to the host society.” He tells me that this is what people tell him about life in Singapore with so many foreign workers.

Well, our local residents might not realize it but these smelly and poor people doing the lowest of the low jobs were precisely the people that Christ stood for. The reality for a labourer from the Subcontinent is that he not only works long hours for low wages (S$1 an hour for a 12-hour day), he lives in conditions that a damp and dirty and expensive. It’s not just the pay and the living conditions but the way in which people look at him – like a bad smell personified (I had to make the point the Young Muslim Politician from Pasir Ris GRC who Eats Pork during Ramadan aka Thambi Pundek that if he spent 12-hours in the tropical sun he wouldn’t smell too good either). Whenever labourers get screwed by their employers, the laws are such that they remain under the mercy of the very employers who have cheated them.

These are the people without a voice in society. These are the people who Christ stood up for. Whatever you may believe about his divinity, Jesus of Nazareth was a man who told the world that God lived in the pits.

Unfortunately this is a message that governments regard as highly provocative. I can imagine Jesus in today’s Singapore. The Christ that I got to read about in his scriptures all those years ago would have been hanging around places like Geylang or Little India. He would have done things like publically admonish the powers-that-be for allowing people to go hungry. He would have told the labourers and the prostitutes that they had rights to be treated as people and not as mere digits for the greater good of the well to do.

This would be the type of character our society would have jailed and denounced in the media. How dare he tell the voiceless that God spoke for them?

Unfortunately our perceptions of the world have shown us that we have grown to love money and things more than God. Isn’t that just too bad for us that we, for the most part, would fail to see God if he appeared before us and lived amongst us…..