16 Nov 2015

11 lessons I learned from Jeff Bullas in 3 Days

You have seen his caricature everywhere, and almost certainly have read his blog posts. If not, the online influencers you follow have definitely mentioned his name. You cannot deny that.

Jeff Bullas was in Mumbai for the 2-day BNLF event organized by Indiblogger. His keynote on day 1 was awesome, and his masterclass on day 2 was… well, a masterclass.

Where Vinita (of the BlogwatiG fame) and I REALLY got lucky was on the third day, when we got the online marketing guru exclusively to ourselves. Jeff, Vinita and I spent the day roaming around Mumbai. We discussed many topics - culture, sports, experiences, politics, blogging, psychology and more. That Vinita and I learned a lot from Jeff is an understatement. I’ve put together a list of 11 splendid lessons Jeff gave us in 3 days... lessons which you would happily pay money for. But I'm sharing them with you for free!

Clockwise - Vinita, Jeff and me

Disclaimer: This is a really looooong post. And yet, it covers only about 7 percent of what we learned. However, this 7 percent can turn your life on its head.

The best lesson is the last one. So I hope you stay till the end.

1. Our biggest challenge
“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” - John Maynard Keynes.

If you have to walk away right now because your spouse is calling, or your child is crying, make sure you take this one lesson with you.

The adage of “thinking outside the box” has been beaten to death. Yet, almost everyone finds it impossible (not difficult… impossible) to do, because we are rigidly anchored to old ideas. “It’s always been like this” is our fallback theory.

Takeaway: Before you think outside the box (or even try), unlearn old practices, and learn new ones. Out with the old and in with the new. Because the day you are through with change, you are through.

2. Re-invent yourself

“I have re-invented myself many times over the years”, says Jeff. The last time he he did was in 2008, when he adopted social media and started his journey towards becoming the guru that he is today. And he continues doing so.

The world is changing at the rate of knots. What was indispensable a few years ago is now redundant. We’re perilously close to Digital Darwinism, where technology advances so fast that mankind is unable to keep up. Yet, most of us stay trapped in our comfort zones because… well, “it’s always been like this”. Remember point #1?

People who have flourished are the ones who have re-invented themselves, time and again. You must re-invent yourself too - repeatedly. Unless, of course, you don’t mind becoming as obsolete as the walkman. (By the way, the walkman can still demand a premium today. Can you?)

Takeaway: If you still are counting the laurels of yesterday, you are not doing enough today. What you achieved in the past may have worked, but that is the past. It’s time to do something new. As Gary Vee says, “do what is relevant in 2015, not in 2007.”

Which bring us to the obvious question: “How do I re-invent myself?” Well, read on.

3. What are you good at?

Jeff firmly believes in Pareto’s Law - that 80% of your results stem from 20% of your work. And he follows it to the ’T’. He focuses on the 20 percent activities which yield him maximum returns. The remaining 80 percent he either delegates, outsources or ignores. This not only lets him focus on what he is good at, but also helps him excel in those areas. And you know that in today’s world, ‘good’ and ‘unique’ don’t cut it anymore. You have to be remarkable.

To find what you are good at, Jeff suggests that you read ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham. Along with insights on discovering your forte, this book gives you an online test which sheds light on your five key strengths. Based on those strengths, you can take up what you are good at and start a journey towards reinventing yourself.

Takeaway: 80 percent of your results stem from 20 percent of your work. Draw a list of your activities to map out which ones give you maximum returns, and which ones waste your time. Pareto’s Law will make you better at what you love, and drill the much needed focus into your life. And yes, read ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’.

4. Think bigger

“The population of Sydney is about 4 million, and that of Australia is about 25 million, which is less than the population of Mumbai”, said Jeff. He possesses in-depth knowledge of each city and country he visits. But I’m digressing here.

If Jeff intended on catering solely to the Aussie audience, he would have run out of new customers quickly. So his focus is not just Australia. It’s the US, Canada, India and the whole world. A sizable chunk of his readers are from India. Who would’ve thought! Jeff has also delivered keynotes at Kuwait and Beirut too. “Stop thinking local. Think bigger, think global” is his mantra.

Takeaway: The internet is a fantastic platform for you to reach out to every relevant person in the world. So stop catering purely to the audience in your city or country. You have no idea how your work can positively impact someone in a different continent. Think bigger. The world is your oyster.

5. Your purpose in life

Find out what you really want to do in life, and pursue it. Once you do, you will forget phrases like ‘Monday morning blues’ and ‘TGIF’. You will look forward to waking up each morning, and won't have to work another day in your life. You will not only be productive, you will be happy.

Takeaway: “Many people go to their grave without singing their song.” - Jeff Bullas (h/t to Vinita for the reminder). Which song will you sing? Someone else’s, or your own?

6. How we unknowingly waste resources

“I spend a lot of my time working with competition than working against it”, Jeff said to us over tea at the BNLF event. This is popularly known as coopetition. Here is a quote from an ebook by Copyblogger to validate it:
There aren’t many ‘lone wolves’ out there anymore. Partnerships and cross pollination are the name of the game. If you’re building your business on an audience attracted by your authority on a particular topic, you want to spend most of your time working with, not against, the ‘competitors’ for that audience.

Unfortunately, the vast majority spends time competing against each other. This leads to drain in resources like time, effort and funds. And how much do you have to show at the end of these wars?

Takeaway: Collaborate with your competition to offer value to your audience, and reap the rewards faster. You will double your business while investing less than half the resources.

7. Have an audience before you need it

Understandably, full time bloggers want to make money off of blogging. When Jeff was asked how bloggers can get deals to write sponsored posts, there was pin-drop silence in the hall. The whole audience listened with rapt attention - like Batman was speaking to us. Batman… sorry… Jeff, had one thing to say:

"Have an audience before you need it."

Banner ads and Adsense will not help you make money unless you get massive traffic to your blog. Instead, work on building an audience which you will own rather than rent. Build an email subscription base, encourage readers to share your content and return to your site, and strive for simplicity and value addition to offer terrific user experience.

It’s also important to put yourself out there. Brands rarely approach bloggers asking them to write sponsored posts, unless the bloggers are extremely popular. Until you reach that level of popularity, keep approaching brands and pitching your ideas of sponsored posts.

Takeaway: Have an audience before you need it. Grow this audience by offering remarkable value and making them share something personal with you in return. Read GrowthHackers and inbound.org to learn how you can grow your audience.

8. The only way to discover your potential

As a child, Jeff suffered from asthma. Today he runs marathons and is an avid bicyclist. He cycles almost everywhere he goes. He pushed the limits of his body and came out on top. Jeff - 1, asthma - 0.

Likewise, to discover your potential, you must keep pushing yourself to progress to the next level. Read this amazing Zen Pencils comic strip on how Bruce Lee pushed his limits.

Jeff pushes his followers too. Many in his coopetition circle might not agree with his frequency of tweets, but it works for him. “If your audience is not complaining, you are not pushing hard enough”, he says. Amazing!

Takeaway: “If you don’t hear complains, you are not pushing hard enough.” This is applicable to your body, your mind, and your followers. Even remarkable has an expiry date in today’s day and age. Don’t stop progressing.

9. Optimize for conversion

Many businesses start blogging merely for brand awareness. While awareness is important, what matters more is knowing what you want from your audience.

Don’t use campaigns purely to create ‘brand awareness’. Optimize for conversion right from the word go. Conversions don’t have to be sales. They can be newsletter subscriptions, signing up for trial offers or becoming a lead.

Takeaway: If you create guides, DIYs or blog posts for awareness and educating your audience, ask for something in return. Optimizing for conversion makes people return to your property, and helps you build an audience before you need it (see point #7).

10. What to do when your product is expensive

I faced a problem with a specific landing page on which we were selling tickets for an event. The target audience loved the content and gave feedback like “we have never seen anything like this in India.” Yet, nobody bought tickets. I asked Jeff.

“The more your product costs, the more the number of steps to get customers onboard should be”, he said. Jeff has an intricate system of converting users. Using Infusionsoft, he segments his audience. People who show interest in his products by clicking through on the Calls-to-Action are provided with more value-added content before he pitches for a sale. Even in this category, he has sub-categories, and customizes his messages for various groups.

The vast amount of information he shared had my head spinning, and I had to focus hard to avoid ramming into the car in front.

Takeaway: The higher the price of your offering, the more circumspect your audience will be. Increase the number of steps to convert your audience to customers.

11. Done is better than perfect

We’re down to the last, and most critical lesson (thanks for staying till the end). Many of us (including yours truly) have images of how we want things, and refuse to move forward unless something is exactly like that.

During his keynote, Jeff spoke about someone who was not ready to take her blog live because she wanted everything to be perfect. Here is news flash: Perfection can never be achieved! We will always want something more, and then more, and more. The project never goes live and eventually, it’s shelved. When Jeff said this, I felt like he was looking right through the thousand bloggers present and speaking directly to me.

Perfection is a utopian state, something we are always in pursuit of. Even global influencers like Jeff are constantly working on improvement. So start now, and pursue excellence. Success will follow suit. You have a whole lifetime to pursue perfection.

Takeaway: Done is better than Perfect. Stop waiting for the perfect moment and start now. Period. 

It was one of the best days of Vinita’s and my life. We showed Jeff CST, Marine Drive, and Colaba. We visited CafĂ© Mondegar and the Gateway of India. At the end of a lovely day, I shook hands with Jeff and Vinita hugged him. He then looked at me and asked, “Won’t you give me a hug?”

“I thought a hug would make you uncomfortable”, I said.

“Naah, mate. I’m good with a hug”. And we hugged.

Jeff, we’re really glad you came to India and spoke to us all. And dear reader, I’m glad you stayed till the end. If you take something away from this post, you can thank Jeff and me. And if you are upset about not being invited to the day out, it’s Vinita’s fault. She told me not to invite you.

10 Nov 2015

Nothing Can Match Drives and Memories

“I’m bored”, I said. “Why must all Mondays be like this?”

“You’re especially feeling like this because of your vacation”, Vikrant said. I had just returned that morning from a 5-day trip to Goa. I was missing the beaches, the food, the lovely weather and… well, everything that we do in Goa. Add to that the Monday morning blues and the feeling of staring at a computer screen, attending meetings, and wading through office politics for six whole days and the moodiness was compounded.

Vikrant sensed it, and offered to drive down to Datta Snacks in Panvel where we could drink kokum sherbat. We had time to reach office, but not so much that we could drive from Kopar Khairane to Panvel and back.

“Dude, you’ve already been away from office for 5 days, right?”, he asked.


“So how will one more day hurt? Plus, this will prepare me for the week ahead too.” Fair point.

So he stepped on the gas of his recently-restored Suzuki Gypsy. The feeling of speeding past office on a Monday morning brought a smile my face. Vikrant assured me that we would return in a little more than an hour. This was also an opportunity for him to really test the Gypsy’s abilities - he hadn’t opened the throttle in a while.

The road to Panvel passes from under the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. As we approached Kalamboli, I thought aloud that the Expressway would have been a great place to test the Gypsy. And as we approached the diversion, I waited for him to turn. Instead, he went straight and got onto the Expressway.

“Vikrant, what are you doing? We will miss work!”

Tune apna mooh kyun khola? Ab chup chaap chal (Why did you open your mouth. Now come along without resistance).”

Datta Snacks? Be damned.

Even worse, office? Back to fair point.

So we drove along. Vikrant rarely shows emotions - stoics would be proud. But today, I could see his teeth. The engine had done its 1,000 kilometres run-in so he opened the throttle. The Gypsy motored along at 110 km/h on the Expressway, but the fumes which get into the cabin were giving me a heady feeling. Anyway, the breeze compensated and I survived till we turned for Lonavla. We stopped at a hotel to have breakfast and fresh lime soda. And I started feeling better. Maybe it was the soda, maybe it was the feeling of sitting in an empty restaurant on a Monday morning while people were rushing to work… but Vikrant knew that the best way to rejuvenate me was to put me at the wheel. Again, if you know me, you also know that I am not formal with friends. And I love the ghats of Lonavla. So the “oh, are you sure? She’s your baby” dialogue never took place. I sat on the driver’s seat and prepared for a lovely drive up to Aamby Valley. I was keen on testing how the front sway bar and the CEAT Plus One R16 tyres would aid the SUV’s performance on the twisties.

For a vehicle which had been introduced around similar times to the Yamaha RD350, the vehicle’s stance was impressive. I had to put in some effort in turns because she didn't have power steering (Vikrant is a boisterous Jharkhandi who didn’t want power steering). But every turn I took, the 16” CEATs ensured that the Gypsy stuck to the line that I took. The heady feeling was quickly replaced by one of relaxation. Here’s a little secret: just before Aamby Valley is a diversion which is off-road terrain and leads to a village. When I offered to take the Gypsy there, Vikrant’s eyes lit up and he snatched the steering back (not literally, of course). And the SUV went through the ‘course’ with remarkable aplomb. On rocky terrains where one would gingerly have to drive a sedan at the speeds of 10-20, the Gypsy seemed comfortable at 60 kmph. This time, I heard Vikrant laugh.

By the time we were back home, it was 4 already.

There was hell to pay for the next day. Not only because both of us called in sick just an hour before office started, but because our other friends shared a piece of their mind about our adventure without them. Especially because Vikrant didn’t hand over the keys of the Gypsy to anyone until the previous day. To compensate, he let everyone drive the SUV around the campus during the lunch break (our office had a 140-acre campus). And as they say, all’s well that ends well.

4 Nov 2015

What Happens When You Sell Out to the Wrong People

Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez were slugging it out at the Malaysian MotoGP. The way they were going at each other, something had to give. And it did!

Rossi pushed Marquez off his bike.

I was furious! “FUCK YOU ROSSI!” I screamed, running towards the TV. “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!”

My mother came running from the kitchen. “What happened, Vishal?”

"GO BACK TO YOUR WORK, WOMAN!” I shouted, and continued hurling abuses at Rossi.

Okay, that didn’t happen. Here is the real version.

Rossi pushed Marquez off his bike. I sat up in my chair and said “Ooh!”

Mom handed me a plate, saying “ ‘Ooh’ ke bacche, yeh le khaana kha (Stop shouting and eat your food).” And I ate, quietly wondering whether Rossi would be penalized for that horrifying act or would get away scot-free yet again. You see, Rossi is to Dorna Sports (which governs MotoGP) what Robert Vadra is to the Indian National Congress.

Be honest. The first version sounded great, didn’t it? Like I really put myself out there, like it was heartfelt, like passion was running through my veins. You enjoyed reading it. But it wasn’t true. It was grossly exaggerated.

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about James Altucher. Many of his articles have lines like:

“I’m sorry I lied to you that day I posted on……………..”

“…………and [I] didn’t answer until eventually she left, screaming my name.”

“Fuck you dad. RIP!”

She believes he writes from the heart (no offense dear friend, I know you’re reading this). And I said that he is the Chetan Bhagat of the United States. She scoffed.

Right on cue, James held an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on GrowthHackers last night. For the uninitiated, Growth Hackers is a fabulous portal where people share articles on content, growing a business and online marketing and more. And this was the description.

What did he think he would achieve by mentioning that he went into a ‘depression’ on GrowthHackers, a site dedicated to content marketing? Wait. Maybe this is content marketing. What if James knows that the most effective way for him to market his content (read 'books') is to berate himself? That enables millions to connect with his content, and buy his books.

Kanan Gill summed up the human attraction to grief and misery perfectly (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Suppose we maintain a diary. If we look at a day in 2014, we read about having stepped into a pile of dog shit. That’s all we focused on, that day. The good that occurred found no mention and was taken for granted.”

We like ruing over pain. And we gravitate towards people who share theirs with us. It makes them appear genuine, vulnerable. But is that what we need?

On one side, we have James Altucher who writes about how ‘fucked’ his life has been, in every post. And when I turn my head (or rather turn on the tele), I find yet another news channel slandering a man - something that they have indulged in for almost 15 years.

This man sold tea with his father when he was a child. His mother was a maid at others’ houses so that the family could make ends meet. He joined a political outfit and rose through the ranks to become the Chief Minister of his state. In 2002, a communal riot broke out. The world blamed him for it. The United States denied him a visa. The Supreme Court cleared his name, and he was elected the Prime Minister of India. But to this day, people call him a 'murderer', among millions of other derogatory terms. And he continues toiling to improve the condition of India, to empower the poor and make our country a global superpower. Yes, he is Narendra Modi.

Image Source

Or consider MS Dhoni. The man has captained India to win every competition. But a couple of bad series and we (media and mango men) bay for his blood, prepare the scaffold and wait for the opportunity to take him to it in chains and celebrate with pomp along the way.

Dhoni and Modi are torchbearers of hope for millions across India and the world. And yet we treat them like dirt. If there are people who deserve to cry about how ‘fucked’ their lives are, these two deserve it the most. Yet, their steely determination shows in their eyes as they carry on their work, achieving in a single life what we will not achieve in seven. We, on the other hand, prefer reading stories of people who................. well...............

It’s fine to display emotions. The occasional display shows a side of you that people didn’t know, making you appear more human. But too much self deprecation or broadcasting of misery makes me feel uncomfortable, and it should make you feel the same. Life is about moving forward after all, yes?

James Altucher is fun to read. Please don't misunderstand this post as one saying that you must stop reading his stuff. But for inspiration, look at people who keep moving in spite of the odds rather than selling themselves based on them. It’s time you let people find place inside your heart based on what we want to do. Do you want to whine? Or do you want your life to be worth watching when it flashes by on your deathbed?

For each choice, you have options. Choose wisely.

6 Oct 2015

5 Awesome Qualities of MS Dhoni

Someone posted a question on Quora asking about some good qualities of MS Dhoni. Some amazing answers were posted, offering insights into the genius' brain and temperament. I shared my 50 paise too.

Before reading my answer, please remember that everything I write is as an interested observer, and certainly not based on fundamental research. I'm as much in the dark as others about MS Dhoni, but love exercising my brain on what drives him, and learning from him.

Below is my answer to the question: What are some good qualities of MS Dhoni?

We look at MS Dhoni as a remarkable leader and batsman. But we must remember that his success stems from his perspective on life, which, as he says, the game is just a part of. In this answer, I’ll go a little deeper than his skills on the field, but will use examples of his cricketing life to justify my points.

Yeah buddy... keep smiling :)
  1. Detachment
    I remember watching highlights of the 2011 World Cup India-Pakistan semifinal with a friend. The match ended (we won), and Sachin jovially hugged Mahi. The latter merely smiled and hugged him with one arm since he was carrying a stump in the other. “Dekh kitna attitude hai usme (look how haughty he is)!”, my friend said about MSD. But it wasn’t attitude that Dhoni showed. It was detachment - from results, from emotions, the past and the future.

    There is simply an eternal state of calm inside him, looking at things as the plain truth rather than adding personal judgement to them. Detachment is also what enabled him to announce his test retirement after the 90th test match in the way he did, rather than doing so after 100 tests and announcing it before a test so that he would get a standing ovation, a guard of honor etc.

  2. Seeing the good in people
    We know the story, right? Dhoni joined the Indian cricket team and was often picked on by Yuvraj Singh because he was from a lesser known town. Yuvraj picked on Dhoni when the latter scored 148 in ODIs, saying that the true mark of a player lay in how he played test matches and so on. One day, Dhoni simply asked him why he was always so angry. Yuvraj smiled and that broke the ice between them. Yuvraj went on to play many a match-winning roles for India under Dhoni, especially in the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 ICC World Cup. How would we respond to someone who is, say, a senior in our office space and keeps picking on us? Dhoni could probably see the good in Yuvraj, and hence coolly bypassed his bullying behavior and connected with him like few others could.

  3. Having faith in people
    Dhoni’s ability to back the right players doesn’t stem from a lesson of some business management course. His ability to see the good in people helps him give them assurance, which brings often out the best in them. Remember when Gautam Gambhir had lauded Dhoni when the former found a permanent spot in the Indian team? “Dhoni gave me the assurance that I would not have to worry about a spot in the team”, he said. “That gave me the freedom to play the way I liked.” And we know how many flourishing innings Gambhir has played for India. The more people are assured, the better they perform, as ex-Apple designer Mark Kawano highlights.

    We question why Dhoni backed Jadeja for so long. But Dhoni can look beyond Jadeja’s batting ability, sees him as one of India’s best fielders and a useful spinner. There are more roles a player can don than one. And his faith in people pays off more often than not, because people want to prove themselves when someone places faith in them.

  4. Seeing himself as part of a Whole
    In every answer, people who have met MSD talk about his humility. It’s also visible from the way he speaks and where he stands when the team poses with a trophy. Yes, in some remote part of Dhoni’s brain, he knows it’s important to let players and the support staff share the limelight, but not because he is a leader. It’s because he sees himself as part of a team, a Whole. That is also why he often bats lower down the order. Because averages be damned, that’s what the team needs, regardless of what the media or we think.

  5. Perspective
    "If 15 runs are needed off the last 6 balls, pressure is on the bowler and not on MS Dhoni”, said Ian Bishop. This is not because Dhoni is a hard hitter (well, partly it is). But it's because Dhoni has carefully analyzed the situation to let 15 runs remain in the last over. “My aim is to leave it till the bowler and me are on level ground, i.e. to the point at which he is under as much pressure as me. Then we see who can handle it”, he says.

    Another example: “Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just that the distance between the mistakes is more in the case of successful people.” His perspectives on life let him look at it (life) objectively, and that is probably what enables him to imbibe all the qualities that we often talk about.

I could write about Dhoni’s qualities day and night. But for now, I’ll leave you with the 700+ words above and this poem written by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

IF - Rudyard Kipling

30 Sep 2015

Why Hypocrisy is Hurting Us Indians

By the time you read this, the dust must have settled on yet another outrage (I’m bored of them now). Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile photo on Facebook to include the Indian flag, a gesture to support the Digital India Campaign. It made us feel good - after all, Facebook doesn’t do something for a country every day. So many of us joined in. And then some jealous Congees or AAPTards probably saw the mention of internet.org in the code, and declared that Facebook was using it to show our support towards their cause. Immediately, our sense of righteousness kicked in, and as Rachna Parmar said, everyone became a coder. We saw as many people posting status updates about the ‘perils’ of the display photos as the people who updated their photos. Facebook had to come out with a clarification stating that there was absolutely no correlation between internet.org and the Digital India Campaign. Of course, none of the ‘righteous’ people will listen - after all, they know better than everyone else, isn’t it? The fact that they haven’t achieved anything in life except a new level of complaining and cribbing is a different story.

So where does hypocrisy feature here? After all, these adarshis are standing for something they believe in, however stupid, right? Not quite. I’m willing to wager a bet that if Facebook does launch internet.org, or Airtel launches Airtel Zero, these righteous folks will flock to use it just like everyone else. Their justification? “See, I said it was wrong. But if everyone is using it, why shouldn’t I?” Flimsy, isn’t it? You see, people who portray themselves as righteous and moralistic on public platforms like social media and mainstream media, don’t really have a spine. The honest ones don’t need to make a show of it. They quietly go around doing their work, making small invisible changes which contribute to something big. And then every critic joins in to take the credit.

Imagine the laugh that Facebook’s employees (and the world) had at our IQs. Then again, this is not the first time that hypocrisy has hurt us Indians, has it?

Hypocrites be like....

Let’s start with our desire to eradicate poverty from our country. We have been solid supporters of socialism and despised capitalism since the days of Nehru. Socialism implies that production, distribution and exchange should be regulated by the community (or country) as a whole. You know people who proudly strut around calling themselves Marxists? They’re socialists. On the other hand, capitalism is a system where trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Nehru taught his whole generation that ‘profit’ was a dirty word, that people who make money are greedy and should be looked down on. Think about the disdain you feel when you say the word ‘marwari’. After becoming Prime Minister, Nehru declared that everything would be under the government’s control, and placed uneducated people in bureaucratic bodies to ‘grow' of our economy. While Nehru was busy having a gala time, his bureaucrats who knew nothing about business were taking decisions to approve (or reject - mostly reject) proposals from businessmen. Those years bled our coffers dry repeatedly. And Nehru staunchly defended the losses stating that a government should not be accountable to anyone, and that it is not in power to make profit. We were so enamored by his ideologies that we fell for the hook, line and sinker. Not only that, we passed those thoughts down to all generations believing that socialism was the way forward, and that businessmen were greedy. What we failed to comprehend was that greed is an innate tendency of man. So when we should have encouraged businesses to flourish, which would create countless jobs and independent cities like Jamshedpur, we let greedy illiterate bureaucrats ruin our country and fill their own pockets under the pretext of socialism.

Staying on Nehru, let’s talk about another case. While Nehru was PM, we frequently encountered famines. To the extent that we would import about 12 million metric tons of food grains from other countries, primarily from the US, to feed our people. However, when the US urged us to try becoming self sufficient in regards to food, we looked at them suspiciously and said that they wanted to stop us from advancing technologically. Yeah, right! Any Indian citizen who called the government’s attention to the need for improving conditions for agriculture was called an ‘American agent’ (ring any bells?). Nehru kept saying that it was shame how we, a country whose primary occupation was agriculture, could not feed our own people. He was all talk, no action. Just like the majority of us today. Nehru and his ‘trusted’ bureaucrats also chastised the US for the latter’s concepts of capitalism. Despite importing food grain from the US, we cozied with Russia. Guess whose wide-open arms that pushed the US into? Pakistan’s. Till date we’re ruing that mess.

I want to delve more into our hypocrisy. We say that we are supporters of art, and that we want up-and-coming artists to flourish. But in reality, we only like what is ‘big’ and ‘glamorous’. That’s why the senseless Khan movies rake up hundreds of crores in the first weekend, while true art movies get accolades from a few but lie unnoticed by the rest. The same holds true with sports (yes, here I am guilty too. I only watch cricket in Indian sports). This hypocrisy took its toll during the very formative years of our economy. Nehru’s bureaucrats (you can roll your eyes now) believed that steel and heavy machinery “had the highest correlation with national income in different countries.” So, with the help of loans from foreign governments (we were socialists remember? So no FDI), they set up three massive plants. But we still imported steel at a yearly cost of $200 million in the early ‘60s. It didn’t matter. The project was big, and glamorous. There was an alternate unglamorous view too. That we employ surplus labor to produce ‘wage goods’ like toys, clothes, shoes, snacks, etc. These low-capital, low-risk businesses would attract entrepreneurs for their quick return on investment, and laborers would consume the wages in buying these goods that they produced. Something on the lines of Henry Ford’s model. But this suggestion was scoffed at, and it stymied small innovation in our country which could lead to big changes, something that USA has done very well. Now you know why millions of Indians abandoned us for other countries. Now you know why the ‘brain drain’ occurs. “A little more realism and a lot more humility among our leaders might have helped in those days”, wrote Gurcharan Das in India Unbound.

One last point. I wrote about the famines we experienced regularly. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister, he decided to address this problem. His trusted bureaucrats negotiated for months with other states and launched an ambitious (and risky) agricultural policy. They imported fertilizers and 16,000 metric tons of Lerma Rojo, a miracle wheat which kept soil fertile for longer, needed less attention and grew faster. The result? From being seen as a basket case of food, India became, as quoted by the official US hunger document in 1980, “the only developing country in the world which has built a solid system of food security.” We no longer encounter famines and sit on a surplus pile of food each year. The world applauded us while our own countrymen cried foul.

But do you know where the biggest opposition to these policies, which only did good for India, came from? The media, and the Congress itself. The media wrote vehemently against these initiatives, calling them the ‘biggest sellout to America’. Academicians wrote extensively decrying these moves, and the Congressmen secretly kept hoping for a peasants' revolt, which never came. What came instead, much to the chagrin of critics, was the green revolution. So you see, everything that has ever done good for our country has been chastised by the media and us common folk since we are so heavily dependent on it. We are comfortable with complaining about things that don’t work, but are pushed out of our comfort zone when something unconventional is tried, and oppose it with everything we have.

I’m not saying Indians are bad people - okay, some of us are. This hypocrisy, which is deeply embedded in us, is not out of intent; it’s out of ignorance. We’re too ignorant (and lazy) to peel the layers and look for the real truth. For instance, the 'meat ban'. If someone does something which doesn’t auger well with our immature minds, we run to oppose it. When someone else does something else, we run like donkeys in that direction. And another. And another. We cannot wait before we judge, let alone considering alternate avenues for more information. We know the media is shitting us, but we will play along nonetheless. Look what we did to Maggi. And when it comes back, we will still eat it, won’t we? And don't even get me started on the 'secularism' rhetoric.

Are you looking for something to take away from this post? Well, there is none. Or wait, maybe there is. I’m asking (no, imploring) you to be driven by common sense and rationale for the sake of this country and yourself. Understand that there are more than 2 sides to every story. When we start looking at things objectively, maybe… just maybe… we will stop making fools of ourselves and this country will get onto the path of genuine inclusive progress.
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