Notes to Myself



Something significant has happened around us last week!

Few weeks ago I wrote about Misha Osipov – the new chess prodigy. That was an amazing feat by a human in chess!

This week something equally or more significant has happened in chess. Google’s AI, AlphaZero, developed a “superhuman performance” in chess in just four hours. After being programmed with only the rules of chess (no strategies), in just four hours AlphaZero had mastered the game to the extent it was able to best the highest-rated chess-playing program Stockfish.

In a series of 100 games against Stockfish, AlphaZero won 25 games while playing as white (with first mover advantage), and picked up three games playing as black. The rest of the contests were draws, with Stockfish recording no wins and AlphaZero no losses.

This is a very significant development in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning!

Chess programs and softwares so far used to work as a combination of “Huge database of Chess games + Rules/Analysis Engine +  Brute force of computing power”. So the programs were “fed with” chess games and rules; they didn’t “learn” chess. Of course that was also a tremendous achievement. You should read Garry Kasparov’s book Deep Thinking to read about his match with Deep Blue and the future of Man vs Machine chess.

But Google’s AI is altogether different! Few months ago Google’s AI beat the best human in a Chinese strategy game called Go. Watch a short video explaining Google’s Deep Mind here.

Google AI is trying to develop a general purpose machine learning software that can learn things on its own and then excel. In the recent game of chess the Google AI learnt the game of chess in just 4 hours; not just learnt, it mastered the game of chess in 4 hours! The program AlphaZero then played with another strong program Stockfish in 100 games and destroyed it 64-36!

Look at reactions of some of the best Chess players in the world today

You can read an academic paper on this Mastering Chess and Shogi by Self-Play with a General Reinforcement Learning Algorithm

The world around is us changing rapidly! Driverless cars, Drones, Hyperloop, Self-learning AI, Machine learning, Blockchain, Robots performing human tasks and posing threat to jobs…disruption is inevitable in all spheres of life!

One can only imagine how these changes would impact us in year 2030 or 2040! Embracing the technology and facing disruption is not an option; welcoming it and adjusting ourselves, and keeping ourselves up-to-date is the only option! Gone are the days when you could leave University with a degree and spend the rest of your life without upgrading your skills, learning new things. You must earn all your life just to keep pace with the world around you! Because now the threat is not only from other humans, but from machines as well!

Remember the Red Queen quote from Alice In Wonderland?

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I Teach. Therefore I Learn…

I resumed my journey as a Corporate Trainer last week when I conducted a training on “Business Excellence” at Adani Power, Mundra, Gujarat.

I liked teaching even when I was young. I remember teaching my siblings/cousins Mathematics and other subjects when I was 10 years old. I enjoyed the process then and I enjoy it now – whether or not I am getting paid or getting any appreciation or any kind of reward.

It is said that when one person teaches, two learn! I completely agree with the thought based on my own experience.

To borrow from René Descartes (and twist a little bit): “I teach. Therefore I learn!”

All civilizations have valued teaching as one of the noblest professions. Indian civilization is known for putting the educators (the Brahmins) right at the top of social hierarchy (BTW, the hierarchy was not based on birth. There are plenty of examples of the same). A Chinese Proverb says “Give me a fish and I eat for a day.  Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.”. Aristotle said: “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Albert Einstein said similar thing in more colorful manner – “Any fool can know. The point is to understand”. Another Nobel laureate Richard Feynman had interesting take on Teaching. Since it is not a one-liner quote I’m sharing the link here – Richard Feynman on Teaching.

The best way of understanding something deeply is by teaching it. You are forced to think; to get your concepts right before you present.

I had asked my MBA Professor what they look forward to in teaching. Didn’t they get tired of teaching same Case Studies, same theories/models year after year?

The Professor said that he would look for that “Teachable Moment” which would bring Aha! moment for him and would help him learn something new. Every time it is a different experience; can be made into a unique experience and that’s what all good teachers aspire for. I can totally connect with that thought now. The search is for “Teachable Moment” and the joy of pursuing it.


I came across this post on LinkedIn and liked it; so thought of sharing here (with due credit)



I see so many people label themselves as a Thought Leader, Expert & Guru on LinkedIn. Lord knows how many #1 authors are on this site. Good for them! Congrats on their hard work & achieving their goals.

I am none of the above.

Write a book? I can’t even color in a coloring book. I color as if i am blind-folded. Never in the lines.

Thought leader? Naw, not me. My thoughts are my own. I’m not trying to sell my thoughts & ideas. My thoughts are what I have seen over the years & my conclusions.

Influencer? I can’t even get my daughter to clean her room. That’s how much influence I have on people.

Expert? Never will be & never want to be. To me, expert means you have decided to quit learning because you have nothing else to learn.

All I am is experienced. I have learned from bad experiences & from good experiences. All I do is write posts from all of my experiences. I do not claim to be anything but honest & realistic.

My goal with my posts is that I hope someone can take something I write about & apply it in their private and professional life.

I want to thank everyone for their support of my posts. I want to thank everyone that have agreed/disagreed with what I have written.

You are the experts, I am the student.

written by Jay Jensen (LinkedIn: )


Thought for The Day

The saddest aspect of life now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

—Isaac Asimov

Culture eats strategy for breakfast everyday – decoding Murthy-Sikka battle

If you were operating at or connected to the senior levels in the technology industry, the news of Sikka’s exit from Infosys would neither be shocking nor unexpected. It was a question of when – not whether – Sikka would be out of Infosys. So what went wrong ?

The History

When Sikka took charge, Infosys was in doldrums. Once an industry bellwether, Infosys stood still as industry peers like HCL and TCS grew quicker and delivered better returns. Its efforts at moving up the value chain through Infosys 3.0 came a cropper. Murthy’s second stint as CEO under those tumultuous conditions was a largely forgettable one The only positive event were Murthy’s efforts to bring in a new CEO.

The CEO search

The Infosys board envisaged what it needed in a new CEO: a successful technology executive with a global perspective and proven track record. Sikka’s academic success and credentials at SAP looked impressive: additionally, he seemed to have the depth of strategic skills and the right vision for an organization Infosys’ size. He took charge as the first non-founder CEO in 2014. All good? Not quite. Two areas simmered in the background right from beginning:

1. The very first clue comes from Infosys’s tagline: “Powered by Intellect, Driven by Values”. While Sikka’s Stanford PhD and SAP HANA success ensured his intellect stood out, his values’ fitment is unlikely to have ticked all boxes. Sikka was a global executive schooled in liberal values – diametrically opposite to te values of a traditional Infosys. Sikka’s masterful strategic skills and intelligence were an unlikely replacement for his mismatch of cultural values, especially for the top job at an organization that prided itself precisely on these very values,.

2. Sikka’s due diligence about the role of Infosys’ powerful and domineering founders presented an important potential fault line. There is a likelihood that Sikka mistook his experience in the West – where executive freedom is nearly guaranteed – as a benchmark for what to expect at Infosys. Little did he understand the true meaning of Murthy’s line “Infosys is my middle child”: Sikka, like others, might have laughed it off as parting words from a genius – not as literal words from a very possessive strong personality.

In the battle of nature vs nurture, Infosys founders expected Sikka to get nurtured by existing values whereas Sikka expected his nature to turn Infosys around. That dichotomy – as time would tell – made all the difference.

However, difference in such subtle yet vital areas rarely manifest themselves overnight: they build up overtime and blow over soon.

Enter Sikka

Sikka scored some early successes:

1. Sikka loosened the office dress code, promoted 500 employees, gave away iphones, strengthened grassroot communication and did everything to engage employees.

2. Sikka next wooed the investor fraternity and the stock markets by presenting a grand and aggressive vision of a $20 billion organization by 2020. For an organization known to under-promise and over-deliver, this was a cultural shock. The tall talk raised expectations drastically and while that enthused the stock markets in the short run, the expectations – as we now know – made it difficult for Sikka to live upto them.

3. Last, for a conservative organization known to harp on its brand but never known to pay top-of-the-line salaries, Sikka raised the salaries of his top reports to unheard-of levels.

Seen from the perspective of Infosys’ founders, these initial “successes” were not success at all: they were cultural failures, disturbing enough to lead to uneasy relationship with Sikka, but yet not alarming enough to cause a blast.

Meanwhile, Sikka brought an army of top people from SAP to change the culture and help him transition Infosys from a lumbering elephant to nimble cheetah. Unfortunately, Sikka misjudged what it would take to bring about a cultural change: if a culture of a 30 year old, hundred-thousand employee traditional organization could be changed with a handful of imported top-managers, Drucker’s powerful line “Culture eats strategy for breakfast everyday” would not have stood the test of line.

The challenges

All of the above would still have sustained but for a few areas where Sikka and the board crossed Murthy’s red line.

1. Awarding CFO Ravi Bansal a huge severance pay package raised question marks on corporate governance. Infosys prided itself on its disclosure standards. The board’s decision of not disclosing the contents of reports from an external law firm – especially when all was deemed “fine” – gave an already disenchanted founders’ team a stick to beat Sikka and the board with.

2. Within months of the Bansal episode, the board raised Sikka’s already high salary by 55%. The stick in the disturbed founders’ hands now got a poison tipping and became a lot more potent with Murthy incessantly and publicly lynching the board.

3. After some initial success, Sikka’s turnaround strategy missed its target by an embarrassing $5 billion: finally in June 2017, the board scrapped the $20 billion target.

For an organization that consistently beat investor expectations for years, this was a strategic Freudian slip and the Infosys stock – and Sikka – lost support of some of the vital institutional investors.

And for Sikka – long dismissed as a cultural misfit – who had strategic results as the last armory in his toolkit, a slipup in strategy, positioned his rhetoric as “all bark, no bite”. This was the last straw on the camel’s back.

The Exit

With a frustrated founding team led by combative Murthy, allegations of corporate governance, a failed turnaround strategy questioning the very competence of Sikka and missing investor support, Sikka had nothing to fall back on and nothing to look forward to – except a good nights sleep and the much needed peace of mind. Exiting Infosys provided him precisely those benefits – and Sikka cut his losses.

There are some really valuable lessons:

1. With the infamous Tata episode still fresh in memory, Indian founders and family business heads would do well to rethink if they really want to let go in the true sense when they hang up their boots. If all they want is to remote-control a strategically minded executive – who is tasked with the responsibilities of a CEO without the requisite authority, they should stop searching the market and instead stick to the comforts of loyal insider.

You can have loyalty or results – rarely both.

2. For prospective CEO choosing a top job at any organization – specially with powerful founders or families, it is well worth developing a thorough understanding of the cultural factors and sensitivities involved. Raw Intelligence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to succeed – emotional intelligence provides the much-needed sufficiency. And that involves recognizing stakeholders interest before picking up the top job.

There is no point in diving in deep oceans and complaining about sharks.

The forces of nature are so strong that in the battle of nature vs nurture, nature often wins hands down. As Sikka learns that lesson and walks into the sunset, he would do well to recall Peter Drucker’s golden lines that Cyrus Mistry at TATA group learnt equally painfully:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast everyday”.

Source: WhatsApp Forwards and long-time Infoscions

राजा कालस्य कारणम्

कालॊ वा कारणं राज्ञॊ राजा वा कालकारणम्।
इति ते संशयॊ मा भूद राजा कालस्य कारणम् ||१२|६९|७९

(भीष्म युधिष्ठिराला म्हणतात) काळ हा राजाला कारण होतो का राजा हाच काळाला कारण होतो, याविषयी तूं संशयांत पडू नको. कारण की, राजा हाच काळाला कारण आहे.

In modern parlance: "People get the King/Government they deserve."

Leadership vs Management and Gyan

A few days ago there was high-level Strategic Planning Meeting within my organization to plan for the internal goal/ initiative. The goal is to double the revenue by 2012 and to quadruple it by 2015!!! Certainly a very ambitious and daunting task…

So I was overwhelmed when I received following message in my Inbox:


As we continue to march forward, we need to periodically reassess our market position and reinvent ourselves to stay relevant to our customer needs and expectations. We should anticipate emerging trends and align our strategies to capitalize on growth opportunities.

This year we will do this assessment and map out the charter for future growth and development at our Strategic Planning Meeting…and will share immediate communication and updates of these discussions with you on a daily basis…


Now my excitement was not only because the organization was going to share with me the daily updates, thereby making me feel part of the BIG initiatives – creating a sense-of-belonging – but it was also because, I had this complaint about this organization for a long time, that nothing was planned, there was no strategy for growth, no vision, no action plan. Success had happened purely because they were present at right time and right place – and even the so-called ‘success’ was great or anything – just modest growth… So I was happy to finally see some Strategic Planning happening and was eager to know what our leaders (not just top but second and third tier management) think/ say. In last 2 years that I have been at this organization I have never seen how our BU head looks – forget about what he thinks and says! So I was all excited…

Now all my excitement faded and finally turned into anger and irritation when I read through the daily blabbering of so-called thought leaders at my organization. Here is the compilation of their ‘pearls of wisdom’ and then I will continue with my thoughts and cause for my irritation. (Pls. note that this was a Strategic Planning meet aimed at identifying action plan for a time-bound goal – to double and quadruple the revenue in 2 and 5 years respectively. Not some conclave where thought leaders sit together and discuss something abstract and totally unintelligible)


XYZ has made good progress and we need to continue to enrich our passion and energy to support creativity and innovation. We need to continuously innovate to provide valuable products to our customers at right times with genuine customer orientation

Customers partner with us because we know more about them, respond to their needs, appreciate their business, build trust and form intimate relationships over the lifetime.  We need to deepen relations with our customer and prospects and commit long term sustainable delights.

Without an action and execution plan, a vision is just a dream. Collaboration and execution will drive us to realize our goal. We need to visualize broadening of our roles that entails greater collaboration across business units, horizontals, support functions, markets and sectors.

To best serve our customers, we need to move beyond our silos and enable efficient sharing of knowledge and experiences. Collaboration and co-operation of activities are keys to effectively serve customers.

Participating at current year’s ongoing Strategy meet, I am confident of one fact: XYZ is set for Unfettered Growth. We are geared for a new phase of larger growth and expansion.

We, as a team are planning for growth while keeping a careful eye on costs. I and my team are committed and getting ready for the goal, Are you?

XYZ has notably made progress and we should continue to optimize our market position harnessing our passion, talent and innovation.  Our charter is to reduce time to market for fulfilling opportunities by engaging with key market influencers, drive new accounts to quickly become strategic accounts and with strong collaboration across the organization to Key accounts. We also focus on leadership training-developing and nurturing talent.

Integrated service offerings, product partnerships with leading and relevant players in market place and a globalized talent pool will only accelerate growth

XYZ’s Strategic Meet 2010 is focused on laying charter for XYZ’s future growth and development.  Key areas of focus for us is aligning business services with IT structures and IT modernization amongst other key initiatives that we currently pursue

XYZ has exciting times ahead and with our commitment we progress towards our goal. To achieve this thrust, we need to collaborate, strive for zero defects in what we do and continuously look for opportunities

Involving, mentoring and training the identified talent will support taking up skill positions.  Our focus is to build new accounts, have clear aligned new account strategies, enlarge footprint in existing accounts and focus on building product partnership and service offerings.

With a dedicated focus on these we will achieve growth

To continue delivering value to our customers and achieve the aspired growth, building domain expertise, differentiated accelerators and offerings and strategic product partnerships will be key. We need to commit ourselves to continue our efforts to position XYZ as the best on the outsourcing landscape.

XYZ Strategy Meeting 2010 is focused on building collaboration and integration for XYZ.  External markets present very exciting opportunities in fields like Cloud Computing and Analytics for us to join forces and develop. XYZ Finance team will work in partnership with business groups to exploit these opportunities and be an enabler for future growth – funniest of all….from Finance team

XYZ is poised for growth and with collaboration we will build strength and take advantage of opportunities that arise in our industry. To drive us towards the goal, integrated IT-BPO service offerings, focus on new geographies and investment in technology and domain skills form key focus areas for us.

Key is to focus on what we want to achieve and execute it, and we will take XYZ to newer heights.

Our focus is on People Excellence as People excellence will lead to organizational excellence. While there will be focus on talent acquisition and training, the key drivers to People Excellence would be Leadership excellence, Process excellence, Innovation & Learning and Recognition & Employee Engagement.

We will together help XYZ progress to achieve its goal. … (HR – who else??!!)

XYZ’s verticals and horizontals, sales and support functions are all geared up to use collaborative efforts and use our strength to achieve our target. We should continue to provide innovative, offshore centric solutions to our customers. By focused process orientation we provide delivery excellence and value add to our clients.

Focus on geographical expansion of customer base beyond US and UK and geographical expansion of delivery centers beyond India will further fuel our progress towards our goal

XYZ’s talent is the source of its competitive advantage. I will personally drive 3 specific initiatives to help develop this key capability. Spend 2 hours every week on people development with my immediate and extended teams, participate at least 1 new hire induction every month and execute a structured engagement plan with our client facing teams – (This one came from the head of Strategic Initiatives – the only one that made sense and was relevant to the goal!)

XYZ’s journey gets better and better as the years roll on. While we are proud of our accomplishments, we know there is more work to be done. We know that success doesn’t belong to one area or one person; it belongs everywhere and to everyone and we will collaborate to ensure that XYZ’s exciting journey continues to go on.

There is much happening in the market place and we are recognizing and gearing ourselves to continue maintain our leadership market position. Disruptive technologies like Cloud Computing form our focus areas and we commit to take help our customers navigate through this turbulence.

We operate with a Global Mindset, support a Culture of Collaboration, foster a Passion for Learning, encourage Employee Development and Value The Individual. Key areas we focus today cover leveraging strong BNFS positioning using global experience, deliver strong set of service offerings and seed anchor accounts to ensure sustainable growth.

XYZ continues to draw strength from its employees, strong client relationships, excellent track record, and its strong positioning as it looks to achieve greater successes. Integrated service offerings, ownership and collaboration across the organization will support XYZ to reach newer heights

A lot of dedication, hard work and collaboration has led us to where we are today. We realize that there’s no short cut or silver bullet for achieving success in the marketplace and with team work and leveraging each others strengths we will make a difference.

There is no one formula to success. Continuous innovation to deliver new valuable solutions and improving operational excellence remains our team’s charter. Addressing customer needs at right times and with right solutions is our focus.

Market is changing and so are customer needs. We focus to enhance XYZ’s market position by deploying newer and better marketing practices. Improving XYZ’s brand visibility, understanding trends and pulse of the market place and supporting XYZ’s sales endeavors forms our charter

Consistently delivering value to our customers is essential. We have a great platform which has potential to deliver value and we commit ourselves to leverage such critical service offerings to take to market.

We will focus on developing competition analysis framework to create growth opportunities. We plan to form capability leadership teams to execute and support various strategic initiatives. Key is to maintain operational excellence and people excellence. People are our assets and we will ensure People excellence by maintaining Effective People engagements, Transparent Performance Management and Clear career growth planning. Horizontal and Vertical Interlock and zero tolerance on Quality compliance will be our force.

We need to collaborate, execute and replicate our successes to ensure XYZ’s growth.

XYZ’s unity of talent, energy and new ideas is enormous. Maintaining the industry leading standards and working together as one is important. We will contribute to ensure we as XYZ are amongst the best on the outsourcing landscape

Our focus on Operational and People Excellence is going to lead XYZ to be recognized as the best in the industry. This will ensure world class IT shop floor for our customer delivering First time Right.

The Strategic Meet made evident that there is tremendous potential waiting to be harnessed within XYZ. It has led us to understand how we need to manage growth and collaborate to success

Our team will be focused to ensure customer delight. We will close on business solution SME’s who are key drivers of growth. To ensure people excellence we will mentor emerging leaders and create opportunities of growth for our employees

My take away from the meeting is to take the ownership of my work, take initiatives for the organization, closely collaborate with my colleagues and departments and ensure that I leave no stone unturned to achieve our goals.

With our collective and sincere efforts, I am confident our growth will only multiply at a much rapid rate from here.

We will make strategic investments in building competencies around our core strategy.

We will ensure People Excellence by introducing new Career Tracks, deeply focus on Employee Engagement activities and enable Leadership Connection with our teams.

The “think big” excitement from the strategic meet must flow into every employee

Inculcating XYZ’s value system, creating a high performance work culture and providing ample opportunities to do different things using rotation is a key element that will be practiced to ensure people excellence.

We will focus on expanding existing accounts, winning large accounts. Expansion in other key geographies and investment in sales teams to expand outreach will help us build promising presence


This was what the great leaders said during a five-day high-flying meet – considering their paychecks and the way the grand event was hosted – a good number of $$$ (6 digits sum at least – if not seven digits) must have been spent!

In the end I received the following message:

…The concluding Day 5 of Strategic Planning Meet was culminated into each BU and horizontal presenting their plan in support of our goal….

Our BU level plans are interlocked with horizontal and region plans. We will have a common definition of success and we will support each other to achieve as per defined objectives within specified timelines.

… clearly Collaboration and Ownership are essential to our success and we recognized these two themes as key.

immediate attention to Operational/Delivery Excellence

Business excellence will be a result of people, quality and delivery excellence.”


How did you find this whole thing? If you were an employee, would you have been all charged up and excited and enlightened? Or would you have been confused and harassed by jargons, buzzwords, lack of clarity or action plan, to-do items???

The verbal diarrhea might have been well received by the participants of this meet but what did they prove or achieve by sharing this with all employees? Most employees ignored (promptly deleted emails without bothering to skim through the daily updates), many did not even know what Strategic Meet is or how it affects or influences them…few others who did care and bother to track the minutes were clueless, disappointed and irritated (like me!)

This got me thinking about a few things:

  • Are these strategic meets (and similar other high-flying initiatives/ events) for real or gimmicks to fool media, customers, investors, employees and management themselves? Do they produce results? How many of such initiatives succeed and how many fail?
  • Do such meets have any co-relation with what these leaders would do when they disperse and go back to Business As Usual?
  • Do, at any point in time later, they measure the outcome vis-à-vis the strategic planning that was done earlier? Or do they just keep on sitting through the meetings as a ritual – without bothering about its effectiveness? (There was an earlier initiative in my organization – with some goals for 2010..that just evaporated as we entered 2010 and set new goals for 2012 and 2015…nobody at top bothered to discuss or reflect upon the earlier goal and take away from it. I am sure similar meetings/ presentations, brain-storming must have happened when the earlier goal was launched/ announced. And partly the same crowd must have sat through the recent strategic meet)
  • Do people understand the intensity and significance of words ‘excellence’, ‘leveraging’, ‘innovation’, ‘end-to-end solution’ etc.? They have become so blunt and commonplace that you don’t feel excited hearing them… The head of strategic initiatives was the only person who spoke something tangible and actionable – the rest was Gyan (that too of inferior quality and jargon). I remember an incidence sometime back when we were preparing presentation for a prospective customer and the aim was to ‘demonstrate our capabilities and propose an end-to-end-solution’…a complete rowdy Account Manager (who was going to deliver the presentation!) looked at the first-cut (another buzzword…) and said ‘…arre kuch naya daalate hain iss baar…ek kaam kar, yeh Engagement Model wala slide edit kar…uss mein ek ‘Centre of Excellence’ ka box daal do. Aur usko ‘Knowledge Management’ aur ‘seamless integration with  service offerings’ waale box ke saath join kar do. Achchha dikhegaa…thoda punch aayega solution mein!’ I was simultaneously laughing and feeling like punching that guy in nose! A few days ago a US senator called Indian IT giant Infosys ‘chop shop’ – a disgraceful remark aimed not just at Infosys but the entire Indian outsourcing industry. I am not too sure that his comments were entirely disgraceful and there was no element of truth in it. But that apart, what I was surprised at was – the entire industry (including respectful and thoughtful names) condemned such harsh words – but the same people seem to ignore when we demean and ridicule such words as ‘centre of excellence’ and ‘ innovation’ and ‘providing value to customer’. I do not see much difference in the two extremes – the US ridiculing our industry as chop-shop and we ridiculing customer’s intelligence by loosely using phrases ‘centre of excellence’, ‘best-in-class solutions’, ‘state of the art or cutting-edge technology’ etc. In fact if I were to choose between the two extremes, I would  rather go with ‘chop-shop’ coz I see some element of truth there!
  • Do people at top understand difference between Management and Leadership? Is it sufficient to wear designer suits and talk jargon to be considered as a Leader? One of the Ten Things of Google Philosophy says ‘You can be serious without a suit’ – most of the Indian leaders seem to think otherwise.
  • Is is not necessary to talk sense and be relevant? What is such great fascination for high-flying hollow buzzwords? Why can’t people understand their role and restrict to their sphere of work? Look at the funniest comment above (marked in red). It comes from Finance department. Why on earth, the finance department – purely a support function within IT organization with no role to play in main business – would talk about (or even dare to mention) Cloud Computing? I guess the person would feel like a  ‘social outcaste’ in that meet if he did not use that lingo…but that would not make him a laughing stock as he would (or did) – by talking about Cloud Computing.
  • Lastly – how much of this Gyan is under the influence of management studies (MBA etc.) or imitating the ‘true leaders’??? I am sure most of these people wouldn’t have done MBA but may have some fascination for it. Or some might be reading the true thought leaders world-over and might desire to talk/ think like them. Nothing wrong in it – in fact it’s perfectly alright! But the problem is – if it is not backed by sound thinking and/ or owning/ inculcating that lingo then that talk remains superficial – only hollow bubbles of words. Quoting one leader at the above mentioned meeting ‘The “think big” excitement from the strategic meet must flow into every employee’…and for this to happen this excitement must first be real and honest at the source – the great leaders!

I am very much confident that the organization is NOT going to meet the goal (nowhere even closer) and have strong reasons/ data to support it. Let’s see what happens in reality. I will keep a close eye on how this story unfolds…


Speech by JAVED AKHTAR at India Today Conclave…and response by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Javed Akhtar and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar both participated in India Today Conclave – where Javed Akhtar delivered this speech. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar responded to it later (not at the conclave).


Spirituality: Halo or Hoax?

Speech by JAVED AKHTAR at India Today Conclave

I am quite sure ladies and gentlemen, that in this august assembly nobody would envy my position at this moment. Speaking after such a charismatic and formidable personality like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is like coming out of the pavilion to play after Tendulkar has made a sparkling century. But in some weak moment I had committed myself.

There are certain things that I would like to make very clear at the very outset. Dont get carried away by my name Javed Akhtar. I am not revealing a secret, I am saying something that I have said many times, in writing or on TV, in public I am an atheist, I have no religious beliefs. And obviously I dont believe in spirituality of some kind. Some kind!

Another thing. I am not standing here to criticize, analyze, or attack this gentleman who is sitting here. We have a very pleasant, civilized relation. I have always found him to be an extremely courteous person.

One is talking about an idea, an attitude, a mindset. Not any individual. I must tell you that when Rajeev opened this session, for a moment I felt that I have come to the wrong place. Because, if we are discussing the philosophy of Krishan and Gautam and Kabir, Vivekanand, then I have nothing to say. I can sit down right now. I am not here to discuss a glorious past of which I suppose every Indian is proud, and rightly so. I am here to discuss a dubious present.

India Today has invited me and I have come here to talk of spirituality today. Let’s not be confused by this word spirituality, you can find two people with the same name and they can be totally different people. Ram Charit Manas was written by Tulsidas. And the television film has been made by Ramanand Sagar. Ramayan is common but I dont think it would be very wise to club Tulsidas with Ramanand Sagar. I remember, when he had written Ramcharit Manas, he had faced a kind of a social boycott. How could he write a holy book in such a language like Avadhi? Sometimes I wonder fundamentalists of all hues and all colors, religions and community show how similar they are. In 1798, a gentleman called Shah Abdul Qadir, in this very city, for the first time translated Quran in Urdu, and all the ulemas of that time gave fatwa against him that how could he translate this holy book in such a heathen language.

When Tulsi wrote Ramcharit Manas and he was boycotted, I remember a chowpai that he had written.

*Dhut kaho abdhut kaho rajput kaho ki julawa kohu*
*Kohu ki beti se beta na biahab, kohu ki jaat bigaar na chahu*
*Mang ke khaibo, mehjid ma raihbo, lebe ka ek na debe ka dohu*

Ramanand Sagar, when he made his television serial, he made millions. I am not undermining him, but obviously he is much lower in the rung. I will give you another example. Perhaps it would be more direct and more appropriate. Gautam came out of a palace and went into wilderness to find the truth. But nowadays we see, the modern age gurus, come out of the wilderness and wind up in the palaces. They are moving in the opposite direction. We can’t talk of them in the same breath. So let us not hide behind names which are dear and respectable for every Indian.

When I was invited to give this talk, I felt that yes, I am an atheist, try to be a rationalist in any given situation, Maybe that’s why I have been called. But suddenly I have realized that there is another quality that I share with Modern Age gurus. I work in films. We have lot in common. Both of us, sell dreams, both of us create illusions, both of us create icons, but with a difference. After three hours we put a placard ‘the end’. Go back to reality. They don’t.

So ladies and gentlemen, let me make it very clear that I have come to talk of this spirituality that has a supermarket in the world. Arms, drugs and spirituality these are the three big businesses in the world. But in arms and drugs you really have to do something, give something. That’s the difference. Here you don’t have to give anything.

In this supermarket you get instant Nirvana, Moksha by mail, a crash course in self realization, cosmic consciousness in four easy lessons. This supermarket has its chain all over the world, where the restless elite buy spiritual fast food. I am talking about this spirituality.

Plato in his dialogues has said many a wise thing, and one of them is before starting any discussion decide on the meanings of words. Let us try to decide on the meaning of this word spirituality. Does it mean love for mankind that transcends all religion, caste, creed, race? Is that so? Then I have no problem. Except that I call it humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees, mountains, oceans, rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again I have no problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness. Does spirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like marriage, parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I have no problem again sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil responsibility. Does spirituality mean going into your own world trying to understand the meaning of your own life? Who can object on that? I call it self-introspection, self assessment. Does spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given us the details of Yoga, *Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam*We may do it under any name, but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it health-care. Physical fitness.

Now is it a matter of only semantics. If all this is spirituality, then what is the discussion. All these words that I have used are extremely respectable and totally acceptable words. There is nothing abstract or intangible about them. So why stick to this word spirituality? What is there in spirituality that has not been covered by all these words? Is there something? If that is so then what is that?

Somebody in return can ask me what is my problem with this word. I am asking to change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why so? I will tell you what is my reservation. If spirituality means all this then there is no discussion. But there is something else which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary, the meaning of spirituality is rooted in a word called spirit. When mankind didn’t know whether this earth is round or flat, he had decided that human beings are actually the combination of two things. Body and spirit. Body is temporary, it dies. But the spirit is, shall I say, non-biodegradable. In your body you have a liver and heart and intestines and the brain, but since the brain is a part of the body, and mind lies within the brain, it is inferior because ultimately the brain too shall die with the body, but don’t worry, you are not going to die, because you are your spirit, and the spirit has the supreme consciousness that will remain, and whatever problem you have is because you listen to your mind. Stop listening to your mind. Listen to your spirit – the supreme consciousness that knows the cosmic truth. All right. Its not surprising that in Pune there is an ashram and I used to go there. I loved the oratory. On the gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave your shoes and minds here. There are other gurus who don’t mind if you carry your shoes. But minds? Sorry!

Now, if you leave your mind what do you do? You need the Guru to find the next station of consciousness. That hides somewhere in the spirit. He has reached the supreme consciousness, he knows the supreme truth. But can he tell you. No sir, he cannot tell you. So can you find out on your own? No sir, you need the guru for that. You need him but he cannot guarantee that you will know the ultimate truth and what is that ultimate truth? What is the cosmic truth? Relating to cosmos? I have really not been able to understand that. The moment we step out of the solar system the first star is Alpha Centuari. It is just four light years away. How do I relate to that!! What do I do!!

So the emperor is wearing robes that only the wise can see. And the emperor is becoming bigger and bigger. And there are more and more wise people who are appreciating the robe.

I used to think that actually spirituality is the second line of defense for the religious people. When they get embarrassed about traditional religion, when it starts looking too down-market, they hide behind this smokescreen of cosmos and super consciousness. But that is not the complete truth. Because the clientele of traditional religion and spirituality is different. You take the map of the world, you start marking places which are extremely religious, within India or outside India, Asia, Latin America, Europe wherever. You will find that wherever there is lot of religion there is lack of human rights. There is repression. Anywhere. Our Marxist friends used to say that religion is the opium of poor masses, the sigh of the oppressed. I don’t want to get into that discussion. But spirituality nowadays is definitely the tranquilizer of the rich.

You see that the clientele is well heeled, it is the affluent class. Alright, so the guru gets power, high self esteem, status, wealth (which is not that important), power and lot of wealth too. What does the disciple get? When I looked at them carefully I realized that there are categories and categories of these disciples. Its not a monolith. There are different kinds of followers. Different kinds of disciples. One, who is rich, successful, doing extremely well in his life, making money, gaining property. Now, since he has everything he wants absolution too. So guru tells him – whatever you are doing, is *niskaam karma *you are playing a role, this is all *Maya*, the money that you are making everyday and the property that you are acquiring, you are not emotionally involved with it. You are just playing a role. You come to me because you are in search of eternal truth. Maybe your hands are dirty, but your spirit and soul are pure. And this man, he starts feeling wonderful about himself. For seven days he is exploiting the world, and at the end of the seven days when he goes and sits at the feet of the guru, he feels I am a sensitive person

There is another category. That too comes from the affluent class. But he is not the winner like the first one. You know winning or losing that is also relative. A rickshaw-wallah if he is gambling on the pavement and wins hundred rupees will feel victorious, and if a corporate man makes only 300 million dollars, while his brother is a billionaire, he will feel like a failure. Now, what does this rich failure do? He needs a guru to tell him who says that you have failed? You have other worlds, you have another vision, you have other sensibility that your brother doesn’t have. He thinks that he is successful, wrong. The world is very cruel, you know. The world tells you honestly, no sir, you have got three out of ten. The other person has seven out of ten. Fair. They will treat you that way and they will meet you that way. There he gets compassion. There he plays another game.

Another category. And I will talk about this category not with contempt or with any sense of superiority, not any bitterness, but all the compassion available one that is a very big client of this modern day guru and today’s spirituality, is the unhappy rich wife. Here is a person who put all her individuality, aspirations and dreams, and her being at the altar of marriage and in return she got an indifferent husband. Who at the most gave her a couple of children. Who is rather busy with his work, or busy with other women. This woman needs a shoulder. She knows that she is an existential failure. There is nothing to look forward to. She has a vacuous, empty, comfortable yet purposeless life. It’s sad, but it is true.

Then there are other people. Who are suddenly traumatized. They lose a child. The wife dies. The husband dies. Or they lose the property, they lose their business. Something happens that shocks them and they ask why me? So who do they ask? They go to the Guru. And the guru tells him that this is Karma. But there is another world if you follow me. Where there is no pain. Where there is no death. Where there is immortality. Where there is only bliss. He tells all these unhappy souls follow me and I will take you to heaven, to paradise, where there is no pain. I am sorry sir, it is disappointing but true that there is no such paradise. Life will always have a certain quota of pain, of hurts, a possibility of defeats. But they do get some satisfaction.

Somebody may ask me if they are feeling better, if they are getting peace then what is your problem. It reminds me of a story that I have read. It’s an old Indian story told by a sage, that a hungry dog finds a dry bone and tries to eat it and in the process bites its own tongue. And the tongue is bleeding and the dog feels that he is getting nourishment from the bone. I feel sad. I don’t want them, these adults, to behave like this because I respect them. Drugs and alcohol are also supposed to give mental peace and serenity, but is that kind of piece or serenity desirable or advisable?

The answer is no. Any mental peace that is not anchored in rational thoughts is nothing but self-deception. Any serenity that takes you away from truth is just an illusion, a mirage. I know that there is a kind of a security in this which is like the security of a tri-cycle. If you are riding a tri-cycle you can’t fall. But adults do not ride tricycles. They ride bi-cycles. They can even fall. It is a part of life.

There is one more kind. Like everybody who is the member of the golf club is not fond of golf. In the same way everybody who is seen in an ashram is not a spiritual person. A film producer who is an ardent follower of a guru, whose ashram is about two hours from Delhi once told me that you must go to my Guru. You will see the who’s who of Delhi there. Let me tell you my Guruji is another Chandraswami in the making. Now this is a contact point for networking. I have great respect for people who are spiritual, or religious, and in spite of this they are good people. And I have a reason. I believe that like every emotion or feeling, you have a limitation.

You can see up to a point. And you can’t see further. You can hear up to a point, but beyond that you won’t be able to register sounds. You can mourn up to a point and then you will get over your mourning. You will feel happy up-to a point and then you will be through with your happiness. Same way, I am sure that you have a certain capacity for nobility also. You can be as noble and no more. Now suppose if we count this capacity for nobility in the average man as ten units, now anybody who goes to pray in a mosque five times is consuming his five units, there anybody who goes to the temple or sits in the feet of the Guru, he is consuming his quota of nobility there. And in a totally non-productive manner. I don’t go to pray. I don’t pray. If I don’t go to any guru, or mosque or temple or church, what do I do with my quota of nobility. I will have to help somebody, feed somebody, give shelter to somebody. People who use their quota in worshipping, praying, adoring religious figures and spiritual figures, in spite of that, if they are left with some nobility, hats off to them.

You may ask me, that if I have this kind of ideas about religious people, why should I show such reverence for Krishan and Kabir and Gautam? You can ask me. I’ll tell you why I respect them. These were the great contributors in the human civilization. They were born in different points of time in history, in different situations. But one thing is common in them. They stood up against injustice. They fought for the downtrodden. Whether it was Ravana, or Kansha or the pharaoh or the high priests or the British Samrajya in front of Gandhi or the communal empire of Firoze Tughlaq in the times of Kabir, they stood against that.

And what surprises me, and confirms my worst feelings, that today, the enlightened people who know the cosmic truth, none of them stand up against the powers that be. None of them raises his voice against the ruling classes and the privileged classes. Charity, yes, when it is approved and cleared by the establishment and the powers that be. But I want to know which was that guru which took the dalits to those temples which are still closed to them. I want to know which was that guru who stood for the rights of the Adivasis against the thekedaars and contractors. I want to know which was that guru  who spoke about the victims of Gujarat and went to their relief camps. They are human beings too.

Sir, It is not enough to teach the rich how to breathe. It is the rich man’s recreation. It is the hypocrites pretension. It is a mischievous deception. And you know that in the oxford dictionary, mischievous deception is a term that is used for a word, and that word is HOAX.


… and the response by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (of Art of Living)


It is funny that in a country like India spirituality is talked about as a hoax. How can something which is so obvious, which is part of millions of people, be taken as a hoax? Spirituality is not a halo of the few, it is the breath of every human being. Have people forgotten that freedom was achieved through spirituality as the prime means by Mahatma Gandhi?

It has become a fashion with journalists to blindly continue the colonial tradition of calling Hindu spiritual leaders a hoax. They called Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo godmen and hoaxes, and their contemporaries continue to do so. Would they say this to Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama? No! Only Indian spiritual leaders are singled out.

The India Today Conclave offered a basis for a discussion on spirituality, “Halo or Hoax?” Javed Akhtar joked, “In movies we create an illusion and then after three hours we put up a sign, The End, and make people step back into reality, whereas spiritual people also create an illusion but they do not put an end to it.” The audience applauded. I smiled within and thought, yes, what this man says is correct, all that is created comes to an end. If something does not end then it is not created! Perhaps he didn’t even realise the profound truth of what he was saying.

So in some way he tacitly accepted that the love and drama he creates in the movies does end, but the love and transformation created by spiritual people never end. Yes, this whole world is an illusion that never ends. I drew Adi Shankara from his sarcasm. What an enigma: the perception and the reality. So Mr Akhtar is actually saying that his reel love songs are false. If only he knew the reality: that his lyrics express the genuine feelings of thousands of youth when they come and sing his marvelous songs before me, with that spark of love in their eyes. Real-life love never ends; it moves from life to lifetimes.

Spirituality is intoxicating. Only those who step into it will know. Before criticising we need to do our homework. Has one visited ashrams, like the Ramakrishna Ashram, Ananda Mayi Ma Mutt, Brahma Kumaris’, Gayatri Parivar, Pandurang Shastri, Sri Aurobindo Ashram or Art of Living? Has one spent time with saints? Only then does one’s views carry weight, else they remain simple accusations only, a distorted perception, not reality.

Mr Akhtar thundered again: “All modern-day spiritualists are hypocrites”. Many people froze as he dismissed the present-day gurus. Today there are millions of people who follow spirituality: are they all hypocrites? I appreciated that he could express his feelings boldly, without pretension. But the contempt that was exhibited for gurus was alarming. The hatred and frustration were obvious from his body language. It’s not just Mr Akhtar. Many journalists, communists, atheists and naxalites live in that state of mind, of being anti-religious, anti-rich, anti-famous, anti-business.

Should I argue and put him down? No! I have never put anyone down. I can’t deviate from my nature. So I simply said, everyone has the right to be ignorant.

A flash of Aurangzeb, who butchered thousands of gurus and would not listen to any reason or logic, came to mind. An intelligent man would look into all the avenues before he makes a comment or accusation. It is necessary to stand up for justice and expose the misdeeds of the world. Instead the so-called activists only engage in accusations. Blaming the entire modern-day spiritual guru and sadhu community is as foolish as branding the entire Muslim community as terrorists.

It is the medieval brahmanical mindset to always put down business and politics and the colonial mindset to denounce gurus. As a result we never expanded our political influence nor globalised our business until very recently.

Then came his next statement that Buddha went from the palace to the forest and today the gurus come from the forest to the palace. I said to myself, ‘Come on! Buddha went to the forest when he was unhappy and miserable, and he came right back when he became a guru’. Any high school student knows this. Besides, every palace had a rajguru. Last year hundreds of sadhus were evicted from the caves and hermitages of the Himalayan region, near Haridwar, by the forest department. People generally think sadhus should live in forests with torn clothes but the forest department wanted to send them to the city!

The atheists have always fought with spiritual people. In those situations we should know how to act. It is pointless to argue with them. What do you say to a man who has never stepped into the realm of spirituality yet calls it a hoax? One cannot make a blind man see the light through his nose.

Unfortunately atheists are just fearful and good dramatists. A man who equates arms, drugs and spirituality is not going to change his opinion immediately and anyway his opinion is not going to matter for what is and what will be. Come on, I thought, sing a new song. My compassion grew.

Often activists seem to create rage and revenge in the victims; they cannot bring solace and creative action. In the name of justice they fume with hatred. This can lead to acts of violence like the recent killings of 19 sadhus in Uttar Pradesh. It has been an old tradition to glorify the dead, and call the living a hoax. Kabir had to put up with this as did Meera, Buddha, Jesus, Adi Shankara and many more. the wise do not mind the outburst of a few.

Spirituality is not a matter of the head, it is a matter of the heart. I had two choices: to argue and turn the conclave into a conflict or to keep silence. I chose the latter.

[Sri Sri Ravi Shankar]


An MBA’s thoughts on MBA Glut

Further to my post On IIMs’ high salary: The true story has a twist I wanted to write about my thoughts on MBA and its perception in people’s mind. I could not do that till now; but a couple of things finally pushed me write this post.


Scene 1 A: My colleague at work was talking to another colleague (both work as Software Developers and have been in the UK for a couple of years as ‘On-site coordinators

C1: Arre yaar, mujhe iss saal MBA karna hi hain woh bhi UK sey (I want to pursue MBA this year, from UK)

C2: Haha, aur kya karegaa, waapas yehi ayegaa na? To kyon dene hain 20-25 lakh (And what would you do – join the same place again???)

And then C2 went on to ridicule MBA and how one could easily do without it…etc. etc.


Scene 1 B: Next to my cubicle sit an Account Manager and another Project Manager…

(Background) AM had asked me about my MBA and experience of doing it from the UK and pros and cons etc. (and he had concluded – ‘Arre tum yahaan XYZ company mein kya kar rahe ho?’)

PM: Kya baat hain Sir ji, MBA institute  website dekh rahe ho…

AM: Ab mujhe MBA ke liye janaa hain…I want at least 6-digit salary in GBP…to begin with…kab tak yeh roaj ki fight karte rahenge? Ab thoda paisaa bananaa hain…

PM: Arre Sir ji, sirf MBA karane se salary nahin badhegi…and you don’t become millionaire through ‘savings’ – yeh job se kuch nahin ho saktaa…

AM: Arre CEO ban jayenge naa kuch saal baad…CEOs ki salary pataa hain?

PM: Sir ji, phir bhi woh ‘salary’ hi hain naa…kitna save karoge?


Scene 2: My colleague ‘S’ who arrived in the UK about a week back is thinking of getting his own work permit so that he could switch job here.  He is checking his eligibility using online points calculator and finds that his MBA institute in India is not recognized here and hence could not claim points for Master’s – and thus could not score required points to be eligible for work permit.

S: #@$£*****, yeh ch**@£% log kya samajhate hain ki meri MBA ki koi value nahin?

I: Where did you do your MBA from? It’s not listed in their database…

S: XYZ Institute…arre bahot famous hain…khud ki building hain 2!

I: Did you write any test, say GMAT or appear for interview?

S: Aise kuch nahin thaa…maine application bheja aur ho gaya…

I: Dost, aise nahin should have checked credentials/ reputation of institute.

S: %£@#, arre us waqt kis ko pataa thaa ki Indian se baahar bhi jaane ka chance milegaa? Apne State mein to sab ko pata hain yeh institute. Iss ka matlab mere Rs. 80,000 doob gaye???

I: What do you want to do with work visa?

S: I want to be a consultant; Consultants get £300-600 per day!!! 2-3 saal raho yahaan pe…aur waapas apane native place jaa kar sarkaari-type ki job karo, bass!


These incidents got me thinking. Because this is something which I have been experiencing during my interactions with prospective MBA students who contact me for advise, queries etc.

Going back to Scene 1 A again – C2 (Colleague 2) represents a category of people who think that MBA (or any higher education)  is justified only when it takes you to somewhere else and/or at much higher position. If you are joining the same organization/ position post-MBA you are a fool!

They fail to understand that –

1. MBA is not necessarily for short-term immediate gains, it could also be for long-term growth/ benefits

2. Going one step further, MBA may not be for any gains/ career progression at all!!! Probably I would achieve all things without MBA. But MBA could be for my personal satisfaction, my thirst for understanding (and formally learn) different subjects, ‘be aware’ of what is happening around me, even if it is not part of my job or directly impacting me…(now how much should one spend for this ‘insane thirst’ is personal matter). So it is not necessary to even measure success or effectiveness of MBA or any higher education for that matter by yardstick of ‘gain in salary, designation’

But I don’t even take pain of discussing or explaining this to C2-type of people. Because it is beyond their capacity to understand this. I just ignore such people and avoid interaction on this topic.

Now about Scene 1B: I get irritated with and angry at myself – for having to work with such Account Managers who would, in one way or the other, decide my career growth in that organization. This is for two reasons – first, they have such ludicrous notion of MBA (that it is a ladder to get 6-digit salary or to become CEO eventually) and second (and more importantly for me) they decide how to put my skills/ qualification to the best use and have a say in my career growth. I try to keep distance from such people and looks for ways to get rid of them altogether.

Moving on to Scene 2: I have mixed emotions about this lot represented by ‘S’. Sometimes I pity them – that they are fooled by all glitz and glamor surrounding word MBA and end up spending money and time on any MBA which doesn’t help them in any way. But at times I am irritated by this lot too – that they too want fast growth by only getting a label or a paper-tag called MBA, without understanding what it is, is it required for their kind of profession, are they suitable for this, is the institute credible enough etc.

It is the kind of population that is causing this much-talked MBA Glut. The same was being discussed in the US in 1994.

Although the context of the two is completely different. In the US the discussion was around ‘whether we need so many MBAs, do we have an over-supply?’ Whereas the question in India is ‘How do we maintain the standard of higher-education so that people are employable’

A recent study found that India is suffering from a real shortage of skilled labor, even as number of people graduating (i.e. getting degrees) is on rise. Why this mismatch? Because the quality of higher education is dismal.

And it is difficult to bring about a qualitative improvement in education system for such a vast mass!

I remember an anecdote from my MBA class. I sent email to entire class reg. something and used the phrase ‘Batch of 2008’…and I immediately got whipped by a British class-mate (an experience of  typical British sarcastic humor!) who replied… “Do you mean Class of 2008? We only have a batch of chickens!”

I think our 1-billion plus population and factory-approach towards everything is symbolized by the way we call it a ‘Batch’ and not a ‘Class’…so wonder it is often hard to differentiate between umpteen graduate chickens that we churn out every year!

~ Kaustubh

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