Pataudi: nawab of cricket – edited by Suresh Menon

Pataudi- Nawab of Cricket: Suresh Menon: 9789350296073: Books

Former England captain, the late Trevor Bailey, once predicted that the ninth Nawab of Pataudi would turn out to be as prodigious and incandescent as Sir Garfield Sobers. As a school boy at Winchester, this talented son of an illustrious father (Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, along with Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji were the only cricketers to have donned the national colours of both England and India in cricket), set the turf alight by going on to break every perceivable record, including that held by Douglas Jardine for the most number of runs. Then misfortune and fate contrived to put paid to what otherwise would have been a sparkling career. A car accident left him completely devoid of eyesight in his right eye. In his typical undaunted fashion, ‘Tiger’ – as he was fondly addressed by teammates and friends alike – shrugged this tragedy aside and went on to change the very façade of Indian cricket in more ways than one, ways the impact of which reverberate even to this day.

In this short compilation, edited by the preternatural cricket writer Suresh Menon, glorious facets of this gallant beacon of Indian cricket are revealed to an excited reader. What makes this book all the more relevant is the fact that it is more a clinical dissection of the genius of the man both on and off the field, than a forced panegyric. Contributors include Tiger Pataudi’s contemporaries as well as opponents. There is a stirring and poignant foreword penned by Tiger’s wife, Sharmila Tagore, not to mention two equally eloquent reminiscences, courtesy his daughters Saba and Soha Ali Khan.

Vijay Merchant, one of India’s earliest batting greats and also former Chairman of selectors recounts the unfortunate and untimely circumstance that led Tiger Pataudi to assume the mantle of captain at a tender age of twenty one. Selected as an understudy to Nari Contractor on the Caribbean tour of 1962, Pataudi was reluctantly thrust into the limelight when a nasty bouncer by Charlie Griffith not only felled Contractor but also ended his career. Thus, a young scion was left to handle experienced cricketers older than him by almost two decades. What happened next was the stuff of legends. As Bishen Singh Bedi, that glorious off spinner, remembers, Pataudi became the glue that bound the players together. In an era where provincialism and geography mattered more than meritocracy and mettle, Pataudi drilled into his team the singularly necessary mindset that it was an Indian team, and not a Karnataka, or a Tamil Nadu or a Delhi team.

He was also a captain who walked the talk. Never one to take refuge behind his irreversible handicap, he adjusted and adapted his game to overcome adversity in a manner only he could have conceived. The result was a few innings of spectacular import and gravity. The feisty and scrappy Australian Ian Chappell writes with a sense of awe on one such essay of absolute class and calculated risk taking that left an Australian attack dumbstruck. In the 1967 Melbourne Test, Pataudi already hampered by a serious leg injury dragged his visage to the crease after an attack led by McKenzie had India in absolute tatters at 25 for 5. Pataudi decided to take the bowling by the scruff of its neck and proceeded to score an imperious 75. With one temporarily nonfunctional leg and a permanently impaired eye, the nawab had proceeded to provide a regal exhibition. Similarly, Ray Robinson waxes eloquent over the 203 not out amassed against Mike Smith’s touring squad in the 1964 series. After ploughing through 97 overs for his century, the nawab cut loose and ravaged the English attack comprising of Parfitt and Smith, among others to smash 103 runs off only 40 overs. If this reads absurd to the unsuspected, living in the age of instant gratification and immediate results, this was an era where ODIs were not even a concept, let alone T20.

Pataudi was also a fielder par excellence. Constantly on the prowl, the cover area was his kingdom and he was the unsurpassed monarch of all he surveyed. Quicksilver to the ball and possessing a bullet throw, he was a veritable nemesis to the quick single. However, after his calamitous accident, he could no longer rule the roost close-in. As was his innate wont, he converted this impediment into an opportunity and became Indian cricket’s best outfielder.

Pataudi was also not beyond the occasional prank. Possessing a wicked sense of humour, he could be a nightmare for an innocuous teammate. During the course of a Caribbean tour, Pataudi and Farokh Engineer put on Caribbean accents, telephoned their teammates in the rooms and clamoured for everyone to rush to the reception in whatever garb they were attired in, since a hurricane was headed their way. “The sight of a bunch of Indians in their pyjamas, dhotis and shorts searching for a hurricane in the reception area….was one of the highlights of a tour where we lost all five Tests.”

When it came to tactical acumen, Pataudi was way ahead of his time. When conventional and received wisdom dictated the presence of two seamers, irrespective of quality (or an absolute lack of it) and two spinning options, Pataudi upended conventions by fielding a troika or even a quartet of spinners! Even if wicket keeper batsman Budhi Kunderan had to wield the new ball just so that it becomes old, then so be it. The outcome: a spinning quartet of vintage quality the likes of which had never been seen before and would arguably be never seen again. Bishan Singh Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagawat Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkatraghavan were all provided wings by Pataudi to soar hard and high and by Jove, did they soar!

As Rahul Dravid informs the reader, Pataudi also fought for the player’s cause and was at the forefront of an attempt to form a players’ association. Even though such an endeavour did not come to fruition, its objective was more or less accomplished with the Board enhancing the remuneration and compensation of the players.

The book contains a plethora of anecdotes and is permeated with enduring memories. While the book might have contributed a lot in dispelling a great deal of reverential myth associated with Pataudi the man, it also embellished in great deal the aura – deserving by every stretch of imagination – attached to Pataudi the cricketer. Every contributor seems to have endorsed a universal attribute of pride and fortune that ensured that they were in some manner or other tied together with a colossus who strode through the world of cricket. A true prince in philosophy, principles, practice and pedigree.

Haven is what I want

Resorting to schemes that are convoluted and complex

Conniving with lawyers to create scams that can absolutely vex

Caring two hoots to laws imaginatively called GILTI and BEAT

Stashers of cash continue seeking tax havens and never beat a retreat

The one percenters who take pride in their opulence and an attitude devious

Make for a breed which when it comes to accumulation of wealth is unashamedly tenacious

Unabashedly, unreservedly and unashamedly tenacious

(Word Count: 73)

Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt #192

Sydney 2021

From a playing eleven that had already lost so much in terms of talent even before taking the field, could there be anything substantial left to be extracted? It was with this quandary that a depleted Indian squad – more a motley crew than a well lubricated fighting machine – gamely lined up alongside their much vaunted hosts at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the third test Match in the ongoing Border Gavaskar Trophy. When the spin of the coin too did not go the way of the visitors, the universal consensus was that they were in for a long haul. But four grueling, unforgiving and thankless days, unwelcome injuries, and swirling controversies later, Rahane’s men, were not just standing toe to toe with Paine’s Aussies but also slugging it out with a pugilist’s resilience, that would have received unabashed approbation from the slayer of Goliath even. Factors both intrinsic and extraneous has conspired and contrived in attempting to thwart the Indians from putting up any formidable resistance. While Steve Smith, Will Pucovski and Cameron Green wielded their willows with gay abandon, a bunch of visibly egregious, possibly drunk, and definitely uncivil spectators – whose presence besmirched the very image of the game and tarnished the reputation of the venue – directed a tirade of abuse at Mohammed Siraj, who was manning the boundary line in one part of the field. This was a man who was passing through an extraordinarily poignant stage in not just his fledgling career, but also in his personal life. He had missed his father’s funeral, courtesy the stringent regulations imposed by the “bio-secure bubble”, a concomitant to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Siraj and the Indians stood by a firm conviction that the slurs aimed were racial in their hue and colour, Cricket Australia in tandem with the New South Wales law enforcement authorities launched an investigation into the matter. The results are yet to come, at the time of this writing.

It was against this unenviable backdrop of events that the dour Cheteshwar Pujara strode out to the middle with skipper Ajinkya Rahane in tow, with India at 98-2 (requiring 407 for an improbable win), on a bright fifth day morning. As if getting to grips with the unsettling experience of being abused was not enough, India now had to negotiate the devil that was an uneven bounce. This devil’s appetite would be whetted in no small measure by a frighteningly even world class bowling attack. Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon, in addition to each being an amanuensis to line and length were also devotees of pace and disciples of deception. When Ajinkya Rahane departed in the second over of the day, one could not have faulted the prophets of doom and naysayers for making a beeline to the betting counters. Enter Rishabh Pant. A feisty character whose very game plan is singularly based on the motto of “rile and let rile”, Pant decided that the restrictions on the number of spectators imposed by COVID-19 would not prevent him from laying out a dizzying exhibition of stroke play, the likes of which are rarely witnessed with regular frequency. Nursing an elbow that was lucky enough not to have been broken after taking a nasty blow in the first innings, Pant displayed audacity and artistic flair in equal measure. Sashaying down the track to the spinner and slashing the fast bowler over third man and deep backward point, the young Indian wicket keeper took the attack to the opposition. By the time a gob smacked Aussie attack came to terms with the damage inflicted by the southpaw, he was within a scoring shot of a century. A rash shot, (rash for the armchair critic, but a perfectly understandable item in the Pant handbook of cricket), resulted in Pant falling short of a ton by just 3 runs. However, he had infused a belligerent surge of optimism in the Indian camp. All along the rock called Pujara was standing firm, impervious to pace and impartial to spin.

More ill luck was in store for India. In going for a quick single Hanuma Vihari, arguably playing for his place in the squad, pulled a hamstring that rendered him more or less immobile. When Pujara finally departed, castled by Hazelwood for a typically gutsy 77, the writing was on the Indian wall. The fat lady was in all probability, preparing to hail a cab that would take her to the auditorium. With Jadeja nursing a fractured thumb, and only the pacemen to follow, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable collapse would commence.

However, a pair of walking wounded had other ideas. According to a tweet posted by Ravichandran Ashwin’s wife, the day following the match, her husband had tweaked his back in such a bad fashion that it was an excruciating endeavour for him to bend down to tie his bootlaces even. But no physical detriment would deter these two incapacitated men on this particular day. Like the preternaturally bold Spartans of Leonidas, the duo buckled down and countered all that was hurled at them. And boy did the Aussies hurl! From a barrage of short pitched deliveries (perfectly legitimate), indulging in intimidatory tactics such as when Matthew Wade impudently squared up to Ashwin, (not crossing the line though), to throwing the ball back at Vihari on a couple of occasions when he was well within his crease (behaviour of frustrated juveniles), the Aussies tried it all. The brute pace of the deliveries and the spite off the pitch made the batsmen squirm and shift. While Vihari standing on one leg, with a saintly demeanour, looked accomplished, Ashwin, especially against the pacemen was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He fended, fenced, ducked and hopped. But all that hopping served to embellish the hoping that stirred in the hearts, minds and imagination of millions of people watching from thousands of miles away and egging him on from the confines of their living rooms. Vihari was never hamstrung in his intent. Ashwin would let only his bat and not his back dictate terms and talk.

And when these, tactics ranging from the banal to the boorish didn’t work, the Australian Captain decided to take matters into his own gloved hands. These were the hands that were unusually prone to blunders in this Test Match. Having dropped a couple of edges, Tim Paine was now resolute that he would drop his dignity too. An insistent volley of snide chatter escaped the skipper’s lips as he engaged Ashwin in some unparliamentary chatter. Even though, at one point, he gave back what he received, Ashwin was mostly an Odysseus who tied himself to the mast of his ship so as to prevent himself from being distracted by the songs of the Sirens. Although, I am sure that when it came to melody. Paine’s men who formed the close in cordon are incapable of holding a candle vis-à-vis the Sirens.

It would be unwise to lend dignity to the remarks of Tim Paine by discussing his verbal assault, let alone reproducing it here.  Even though he was gentlemanly enough to admit his idiocy with more than just a hint of remorse, it does not detract from the ugly and ungainly conduct he resorted to, to dislodge Ashwin from the crease. Putting one’s limb on the line to ensuring that one’s nation comes out unscathed, if not victorious in any sporting encounter is an indisputable badge of honour for every sportsman. It is also his/her beholden duty. Tim Paine should have been the most appropriate individual to realise this since it was one of his own countrymen who braved every insurmountable hurdle from heat to exhaustion, to the calibre of his opponents, in engineering to produce one of the greatest ever outcomes in a game of cricket. The late great Dean Jones would, in his inimitable candour, have put Paine in his place from the confines of the commentator’s box if he was to have borne witness to the perfectly avoidable fiasco.

When the dust finally settled and the resolution of the Aussies was broken, one over remained in the day’s play. When Tim Paine grudgingly shook hands with Vihari and Ashwin, India still had 5 wickets in hand. One of the Australian channels put up a caption asserting India had pulled off a Great escape. Nonsense! It was the other way around. It was the Aussies who had their lucky stars to thank. The best bowling line up plying their wares today had totally failed, on their home turf to dislodge two visiting batsmen, one of whom was fighting for form, while the other was fighting for his future. The fact that both of them were visibly injured further adds to the import and gravity of this futility. Ashwin and Vihari were literally out on a limb, and yet had managed to successfully evade close to or even over 250 deliveries. They had played out the equivalent of an entire innings constituting a one day international, but without the attendant glitz and glamour. For Tim Paine who condescendingly asked Ashwin how many IPL franchises had turned him down, Vihari and Ashwin had formed their very own IPL – Indian Perseverance League. An IPL to enter which, Paine needs to demonstrate a gargantuan degree of talent and skill, which he is clearly and unfortunately short of.

I realise now that the eleven indomitable spirits who took the field at Sydney were neither besieged by quandary nor besotted with conundrums. It was I who was being apprehensive of their abilities in a genuinely fond manner. While I am more than euphoric to be proved wrong, nothing warms the innermost cockles of my heart more than the fact that they made the Australians eat humble pie in their own back yard. While it might have been Ashwin who was hopping in the middle for a wee bit of time, it was ultimately the Kangaroos who were left hopping mad and bewildered when time was called at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence – James Lovelock

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (Mit Press): Lovelock, James:  9780262539517: Books

James Lovelock is fast approaching his one hundredth birthday. However, neither the fragilities of age nor the passage of time seems to have succeeded in diminishing the scientific fervor and curiosity of one of the greatest and grandest thinkers of our era – or for that matter, any era. Lovelock’s very DNA seems to be informed with a preternatural propensity to inquire, introspect and infer. It is with this intrepid sense of inquisitiveness, that Lovelock forays into a controversial subject that has almost created a schism between two divergent schools of thought, in his latest book. Extremely thought provoking and for the lack of a better word, arguable, Lovelock brings his infectious exuberance to bear as he contemplates the prospect of hyperintelligent robots (Cyborgs) taking over humanity. If not with a downright sense of glee, Lovelock seems to welcome what might otherwise be viewed as a frightening turn of events, with a degree of astounding optimism.

James Lovelock shot to fame with his famous “Gaia Hypothesis”. The Gaia Hypothesis has at its core, the principle that the Earth can be comprehended as one sole, complex, self-regulating system. In this integrated system, every organism and its inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. The name “Gaia”, was originally suggested to him by the Nobel Prize winning novelist William Golding. In “Novacene”, Lovelock extends this principle to venture into the convoluted realm of Artificial Intelligence, and Deep Learning. Aiding and abetting Lovelock in his venture is his extraordinarily able amanuensis, the Sunday Times author and writer, Bryan Appleyard.  

According to Lovelock, humanity will soon witness the end of the “Anthropocene” – the era in which humans were successfully able to channel the forces of nature – especially sunlight – with a motive to harnessing the same to embellish commercial purposes. Beginning with the invention of the practical fuel-burning engine by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, mankind has made exponential progress in terms of accelerating scientific, technological and economic developments, thereby ushering in prosperous times. Now, according to Lovelock, the world is careening towards yet another new age, the “Novacene”. The Novacene will be characterized by the presence and actions of cyborgs that can think 10,000 times faster than any of us, and will program themselves and their successors in a manner beyond the remit of human comprehension.

What if the cyborgs with their exponential and unsurpassed degree of intellect conspire and collude to first transform human beings as lab rats before proceeding to decimate the homo sapiens completely? Lovelock provides an absorbing defense against such a gloomy probability. He argues that both the cyborgs and their ‘organic’ founders would exist in a carefully calibrated state of equilibrium because of one common integral objective – survival.

The greatest threat to Planet Earth is death by overheating because of an unavoidable dependence on a single star, the Sun. The only rational manner of countering this threat is to keep the planet cool. This objective can only be achieved, when earth is teeming with life. Hence, Lovelock proposes, these cyborgs will join hands with humans in implementing new and novel ways of re-engineering the planet so that it always remains in a “livable” state.

Novacene is sprinkled with exquisitely delightful anecdotes. My personal favourite happens to be the one involving Professor Frank Hawking of the National Institute of Medical Research and his child. Intrigued by Lovelock and his buddy Owen Lidwell’s refusal to inflict burns on anesthetized rabbits – and experimenting on themselves instead – during the course of researching burn wounds, Hawking invited Lovelock over to his house for discussing the outcomes of the experiment. Sometime in the evening, Mrs. Hawking requested Lovelock to hold her newborn so that she could tend to the food. Due to this contrivance of chance and coincidence, James Lovelock ended up carrying Stephen Hawking in his arms, for a while.

It is not as if Lovelock welcomes the prospect of a symbiotic relationship between Cyborgs and human beings with Panglossian impudence or imprudence. He recognises the potential perils and pitfalls that might upset the delicate balance between man and machine. For example, there is no knowing whether cybernetic intelligence would accord uncompromising respect and recognition to the three indispensable commands for robots first postulated by Issac Asimov. The Cyborgs would be released from human commands because they will have evolved from code written by themselves. “It seems we are still in thrall to a play written in 1920: R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek, a sardonic Czech writer who was nominated for the Nobel Prize seven times but never won it. I imagine this confirmed his bleakly realistic view of life. ‘If dogs could talk,’ he said, ‘perhaps we would find it as hard to get along with them as we do with people.”

Yet another distressing possibility would be a decision made by Cyborgs to abandon Planet Earth for more “conducive” climes. “The needs of cyborgs are quite different from ours. Oxygen is a nuisance, not a vital necessity. There is far too much water for comfort. Maybe they will decide to move to Mars, a planet hopelessly unsuited for wet carbonaceous lives like ours, but which might be quite comfortable for dry-silicon- or carbon-based life of an IT kind. Would they go further than Mars? In practice, while thought could be rapid for our descendants, the normal limitations of the universe, such as the speed of light, remain as restricting as ever. Will they have the capacity to move out into our galaxy and even the universe?” What Lovelock leaves unsaid is the ghastly probability of the cyborgs decimating life on Earth before proceeding to their future abode.

On a superficial level, Lovelock mulls about the form which a potential cyborg would take. Robots have been popularized in a plethora of sci-fi movies and novels as possessing enormous heads and slanting eyes. According to the author there are three primary reasons for such a conception, or rather misconception: a quasi-religious impulse that perceives humans as the summit of creation and, therefore, attributes the same physiology to any successors; a self-perpetuating belief that if the exterior mirrors a human visage, the insides also must reflect human thoughts, beliefs and conscience hence allowing man to trust the machine; and finally an intrigue on the idea of the uncanny, as defined by Sigmund Freud. “Freud wrote of the strangeness of dolls or waxworks and argued that this strangeness arose from ordinary things that were, in some way, not quite right. This explains the extraordinary dramatic power of the humanoid robot in science fiction – it looks like one of us, but we are baffled by its motives and feelings…”

It is not just about the Novacene that Lovelock harbours positive aspirations. His take on the Anthropocene is also permeated with optimism. “My last word on the Anthropocene,” is a shout of joy, joy at the colossal expansion of our knowledge of the world and the cosmos that this age has produced.” This egregious, ebullient, and effervescent outlook is a monumental testimony to the manner in which the man has chosen to live and lead a greater part of his illustrious life.

Saying No to Jugaad: The Making of big basket – T.N.Hari & M.S.Subramanian

Saying No To Jugaad: The Making Of Bigbasket: TN Hari and MS Subramanian:  9789389351088: Books

big basket is India’s first comprehensive online megastore that has under its umbrella a gargantuan portfolio of more than 20000 products spread across more than 1000 brands, all of which cater to a burgeoning number of 4 million customers. In their book, “Saying No to Jugaad”, authors Hari and Subramanian, both of whom are also employees at big basket, dissect in a succinct manner, the growth, hits as well as misses experienced by the company during the course of its spectacular rise. The key victories and vicissitudes that charted the trajectory of big basket’s growth are captured in a refreshingly candid manner that is totally devoid of either chest thumping or finger pointing.

As the authors reveal in a matter of fact vein, big basket in its nascent phase was given the cold shoulder by the much vaunted venture capital behemoth Tiger Global Management. Lee Fixel, the highly rated and touted partner in Tiger, subsequent to an interview with the founders of big basket decided to concentrate his investments in a rival grocery outlet Grofers instead. Softbank and Sequoia Capital also choose to place their bets with Grofers. But, yet in spite of the monetary backing and the reputational glitz, Grofers could not succeed, courtesy unsatisfactory customer experience.

The authors distill in a lucid manner the key principles that form the uncompromising edifice behind the functioning of big basket. The overarching values that underpin each such principle is customer satisfaction. In every key meeting that is held at the organisation, a pair of shoes epitomizing a standing customer is placed in the room. Decision makers place themselves in the shoes of the customer prior to arriving at any choice, conclusion, or verdict. It is this maniacal focus on the customer that has driven big basket to promulgate three seemingly incredulous principles, that are innovative in their conception but at the same time risky in their outcomes considering the nature of the business. A “no questions asked” policy for granting customer refunds in all cases of quality dissatisfaction; a 10% cash back on the entire value of the customer order in the event the delivery is delayed even by a minute; and instructions to the delivery personnel not to contact the customer for last mile navigation or for any other reason. The delivery person has to seek assistance from either the operations controller at the transshipment hub or an agent at customer service. The fact that big basket is not just successfully functioning but also thriving in an intensely competitive low margin battleground bears monument not just to their principles but also their processes.

As the authors painstakingly illustrate, the process aspect of business is accorded a lodestone status within the company. Whether it be the use of third party technology for optimizing the delivery routes so as to minimize the time taken for deliveries (big basket has a tie up with a Bangalore based technology firm Locus for route optimisation), or spawning a state-of-the art Data Analytics ecosystem that brings niche analytical expertise which can then be swiftly deployed to address pressing problems at scale, big basket is a continuously evolving, experimenting and experiential hub of ingenuity that always strives to add value to its customers.

As is the explicit commitment to serve the customer better, so is the preternaturally reclusive nature of the founders. As the authors inform the reader, only one of the founders is active on social media, and greatly reluctant to position themselves in the arch lights of fame. Their substantial contribution to the company emanates from their shadows. But as the authors articulate in the book, the founders always stick to the basics and there is absolutely no splurging of monetary resources in a flamboyant manner. Every acquisition is a well thought out outcome and every new policy a bedrock of long term solutions thinking. For example, the company had realised that in India a  bulk of the grocery purchases (70–75 per cent) was planned at the beginning of the month. Around 20 per cent represented “top-up” purchases mid-month or mid-week. And 5 per cent of the purchases were from local specialty stores. Bigbasket had been servicing the planned monthly purchase and had been contemplating catering to the top-up requirements through an express service. And that is how the company ended up acquiring Delyver, a firm specializing in catering to the top up and exigency purchase requirements of the customers.

Another aspect of big basket that has endeared the grocery chain to its customers, is the attention bestowed on maintaining and enhancing quality. When big basket decided to deliver freshly cut vegetables to the customer, not only was the pricing kept very reasonable, there was also substantial back end research as big basket tied up with the Central Food Technology and Research Institute (CFTRI) at Mysuru and signed license agreements with them for usage of relevant technology. As a result, big basket now has over 100 SKUs for just cut vegetables now. Similarly, when big basket made their foray into climacteric fruits (a stage of fruit ripening associated with increased ethylene production and a rise in cellular respiration), it introduced mechanised grading and BRIX—sugar acid ratio testing—for most of the fruits to ensure a consistent size and taste experience. The company also established an integrated packing house at Ananthapur, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in September 2017 to aggregate the fruits and ship them across the country.

At the beginning of the book, the authors warn the readers that the book is “not a panegyric about the founders or the company”. True to their assertion, little to no effort is spent on waxing eloquent over either the achievements or expertise of Hari Menon, V S Sudhakar, Vipul Parekh, Abhinay Choudhari, and V S Ramesh, the founders. Instead the book concentrates on the milestones, management and measures that have made big basket the organisation this it is today.

Saying No to Jugaad – a rousing read.

The Legacy of Gordon Gekko

While Facebook harvests our personal information to alter our innate preference

Google makes us fodder for capitalist consumption by zombifying our saner sense

Instagram threatens the spawning of a new breed of conscious physical and mental alteration

Whatsapp is not far away in casting its virtual net upon many an unsuspecting nation

Twitter channels the anger and angst of disgruntled souls in characters 280

Apple releases carefully researched “doses” of instant gratification, but for a hefty fee

Zuckerberg and Dorsey are the new Gordon Gekkos aiming to weave a fable

The attribute of greed is Page, Brin, and Bezos’ bottomless crucible

(Word Count: 100)

Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt #191

Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism – Jillian York Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance  Capitalism (9781788738804): York, Jillian C.: Books

Following closely in the footsteps of Rebecca Mackinnon and Shoshana Zuboff, Jillian York in her interesting, upcoming and provocative work, “Silicon Values”, distills the various anomalies involved in “content moderation” that is practiced (or abdicated) by the giants of technology such as Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Ms. York brings to bear her formidable experience with and exposure to content moderation and platform intricacies in alluding to various hits and misses that both distinguish and tarnish Big Tech. A writing style that is bereft of pretentiousness and hesitancy makes Silicon Values a riveting read.

Ms. York bemoans the fact that the most aspired for and valued attribute, in the form of freedom of speech is controlled and curbed by a handful of gargantuan personalities striding the very pinnacle of Big Tech and whose actions are influenced by and beholden to powerful political connections, financial prospects and influential lobbying. Tweets and posts of influential and award winning activists such as Wael Abbas, that not just expose, but also educate the people about police brutality and other abuses in Egypt, are thus take down by the social media sites after succumbing to intense ‘back room’ pressure exerted by either the concerned Government or people wielding power. These actions resorted to by the social media sites go against the very grain of freedom of expression, a fundamental right that has been recognised from time immemorial. As Ms. York educates her readers, isegoria, a concept that allowed all male citizens in Athens, to address the democratic assembly irrespective of the fact as to whether such citizens were rich or poor, was given total prominence. The only lacuna here being the disservice meted out to women.

Ms. York although chastising all the social media sites, reserves her ire for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. The company has content moderation staff spread across three tiers. The staff at the lowest level, namely Tier 3, have a thankless task. They are forced to spend entire days viewing gruesome imagery and making instantaneous decisions to take down or leave in place a post. With a meagre paycheck totaling US$28,800 per annum and as pitiful as US$6 a day in India, these employees receive negligible to no training not to mention an absolute lack of mental health support. This has the unfortunate consequence of posts of import and gravity being mistakenly taken down.

In order to minimize such acts and to preserve the basic ethos of human rights across the globe, the Global Network Initiative (“GNI”) was incorporated. Yahoo!, along with Google and Microsoft were the founding members and a bevy of NGOs, academic institutions and shareholder groups joined the organisation. However, as Ms. York illustrates, a reliance on a multi-stakeholder model has rendered GNI, more or less, ineffective. Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, then joined together to form the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (“GIFCT”). The objective of GIFCT was “disrupting terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms.” Due to a deficiency in the definitions of the word terrorism etc, the work of GIFCT has also left a lot to be desired.

Ms. York also highlights other notable perils of the content moderation evil such as the takedown of posts by sex workers following the promulgations of the SESTA and FOSTA acts by the United States Government. Many of these sex workers who were reliant on their connections formed across the online network for information on client screening and other safety measures found themselves in the lurch. Another area of concern is technology assisted content moderation. Using tools of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Big Tech attempts content moderation, but sometimes with hilarious outcomes. Thus, the residents of the English town of Scunthorpe find their accounts taken down or even refused registration because the word lying between the alphabets S and h represents a common profanity. London’s Horniman Museum found its own spam filters blocking it since the filters perceived “Horniman” as akin to “horny man.” Another problem innate with content moderation is lack of expertise with regional languages/vernacular. Luganda the most widely spoken language in Uganda with more than 8 million users hardly finds content moderation experts, proficient to analyse acceptable and offensive posts.

Similarly, there seem to be divergent standards for allowing and rejecting “hate speech” and exhortations to violence. This is where Ms. York’s book is a huge let down. Her concentration seems to be so fixated only on the misdeeds and misguided philosophies of the extreme right, that a person who is unaware of her stellar credentials might be forgiven for believing her to be an integral part of a cabalistic left wing group. Whether it be waxing eloquent on the consequences of Brandenburg v Ohio decision, the misplaced rants of Donald Trump, or the “Hindutva” extremism in India, Ms. York seems to harbour an obtuse illusion that violence is the sole preserve of the right. Hence there is no reference to the merciless and systematic killing (and not just persecution) of the minorities in Pakistan, the planned elimination of right wing campaigners by the Left Government in the Indian state of West Bengal and a myriad other relevant scenarios.

On the whole, Silicon Values in an invigorating, insightful and incisive distillation of the surveillance imposed upon free speech by the bastion that is Big Tech in the digital world.

(“Silicon Values” will be released by Verso Books (US) on the 2nd of March 2021)

No Rules Rules: NETFLIX and the Culture of Reinvention – Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention eBook:  Hastings, Reed, Meyer, Erin: Kindle Store

The co-founder and CEO of NETFLIX, Reed Hastings and acclaimed business author Erin Meyer blow open the lid on an unusual and unique workplace culture that permeates the DNA of one of the world’s most successful entertainment companies. After Ricardo Semler’s groundbreaking memoir “Maverick”, that more than merely raised eyebrows with its sensational disclosure of some not so conventional workplace practices at Semco Corporation, Brazil, “No Rules Rules” is perhaps the only other book of this kind in terms of impact and introspection. A finalist for the FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2020, “No Rules Rules” even though mostly an exercise in self-approbation, has candour written all over it.

Netflix houses more than 8,600 odd employees produces its own award winning original TV shows and entertains more than 150 million customers dispersed across 90 jurisdictions. In the year 2009, Patti McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, McCord, along with Reed Hasting, revealed the Netflix Culture Deck which at the time set the cat amongst the pigeons in Silicon valley and beyond. Controversial in its hue and colour, the Netflix Culture Deck espoused many ideas and concepts on hiring and firing, employee freedom and workplace culture that were not just revolutionary but downright peculiar. In “No Rules Rules”, both Hastings and Meyer – in alternate sections – dwell more about the practices that have made what Netflix is today.

The philosophy articulated by Hastings is fundamental in its simplicity – hire the best available talent; pay them top of the market compensation; dismantle all controls and constraints such as vacation policies and approval processes; incorporate an ecosystem of unvarnished and forthright feedback and empower the superstar employees. Hence, “The Keeper Test.” Will a manager go the whole hog to retain an employee if the latter is an indispensable resource? If yes, then the organisation gets to keep the star performer. If the manager deems otherwise, then the concerned employee would be relieved and given a generous severance package. This policy ensures that at any given point in time, the organisation is brimming with “talent density.”

Netflix also has an “uncounted” vacation policy. This policy – which since its introduction by Netflix has found many other  adherents in Virgin Atlantic, Webcredible, and Mammoth, amongst others – simply means there are no limits to how many days an employee can go on vacation. “Leading by example”, Hastings himself sets off on vacations for at least five weeks, if not more, according to Meyer.

Another singularly unique policy is the extraordinary degree of freedom accorded to employees to make their own decisions, thereby making redundant the notion of hierarchies. Managers also have unfettered authority to make financial commitments within without approvals. The credo here being, “don’t seek to please your boss”, but do what is best for the company. Hastings leaves no stone unturned to inform his readers that he does not peddle the notion of “We are family”. A family is unlikely to either disown or fire anybody because the concerned individual is not fit for executing his/her responsibilities. More likely than not, someone will step up to make up for and hide the inadequacies of the delinquent individual. This notion is injurious for corporate culture. According to Hastings, a company ought to be viewed as a team having its sights on a championship or the Olympic gold medal. “We want the best performer in every position,” the CEO writes. “Like any team competing at the highest level, we form deep relationships and care about each other.”

However, Hastings is quick to admit that even Netflix does not believe in a complete abdication of any form of oversight and rule-making endeavours. A classic case in point being the organisation’s processes for employee safety and sexual harassment, customer data privacy, and financial reporting. Those are domains, “where error prevention is clearly more important than innovation,” Hastings emphasizes.

The most striking feature of the book lies in the chronicling by employees from various part of the globe who enumerate on the Netflix culture and values. From Japan, United States of America, Brazil, and India, these employees hold forth on both the allure and intimidation of being at Netflix.

While “No rules rules” makes for some fascinatingly aspirational reading, it also brings to the fore a very important, reflective and practical question. Can the groundbreaking policies and principles that for the bedrock of Netflix be extrapolated across the world to encompass industries and conglomerates irrespective of the sector in which they operate and the domain in which they discharge their business? The answer unfortunately is a resounding “NO”. Even Hastings acknowledges this fact at the end of the book, when he candidly concedes that in an organisation such as manufacturing where noncompliance with even a seemingly inconsequential of rules may define the difference between life and death, rules, procedures and processes need to be adhered to in an uncompromising fashion. Yet, there are innumerable organisations which can take a leaf out of the Hastings handbook in so far as empowering employees go.

Capitalist Leeches

Like ugly leeches latching on to susceptible legs, satiating their appetite

Displaying neither manners nor etiquette and being irritatingly trite

Respecting neither privacy of time nor the fact that it is a bloody holiday

Abusing channels of communication just so they can have their way

When will these idiots understand what they are doing isn’t at all right

Will there dawn a day when they realise that their IQ is less than that of a Troglodyte

Troglodyte Troglodye just get the hell out of my sight

Troglodyte Troglodyte here’s wishing you a very good night!

(Word Count: 95)

Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt #189