A letter to my niece on her 21st birthday

some life lessons in a letter to my lovely niece on her 21st birthday

21! Wow! How and when did that happen?  Blink of an eye.  I still think of you as the little girl who cunningly sneaked into my suitcase every time I was packing to leave for the US.  Yes, I am stuck in time as most of us old farts are, but you? That’s another story.

From a naughty eyed little toddler with an infectious laughter to a tomboyish young kid. From an often-loving but sometimes-distant young girl to a warm, mature-beyond-her-years, incredibly talented artist, Illesha you have come a long way. Did I say stunningly beautiful?

As adulthood arrives, so does trepidation. And questions.  Lots of them.  Will things change now that I am 21?  Should I be behaving differently? Am I making the right choices?  What should I do with my life? Will Gus ever grow up J?  Will my family finally stop harassing me? These are perplexing questions with no certain answers except perhaps for the last one.

Leshu, as you stand at the cusp of adulthood, I thought I would share some advice with you instead of the usual expensive gift – Twizzlers cost good money you know. What’s heartening is that given your fiercely independent nature we don’t run the risk of you actually taking it.

Health is wealth – Yes, I know. That’s probably the worst start ever but since I am now approaching middle age I have earned the right to say corny stuff like that.  Seriously though, life is 10X better when you wake up feeling great.  More than sweating it out at the gym find a sport that you love and play it 2-3 times a week (Candy Crush is not a sport).  You will be far healthier and happier. It’s taken me all of my 35 years to figure that out.

Don’t define yourself – Acid will not liberate you J, being in tune with yourself will.  Beyond the physical impressions that we call the body and the mind, there is an intuition that is you.  Hone this intuition and trust it more than anything else. Some people use Yoga, others use meditation but I suspect in your case it will be your art.  Use your art to discover yourself but don’t define yourself as an artist. Don’t define yourself as a girl either. Nor as a Hindu or as an Indian.  In fact, don’t define yourself by any man-made boundary.  We have created more problems in the world through narrow definitions than we have solved. You are more than all these boundaries put together.

Stress kills, literally – More people die of stress related issues than any other disease in the world. Nothing is worth losing your peace and your sleep over, ever. Remember, our natural state of being is relaxed, not having an agitated mind. Observe a kid and you will know.  It is external expectations that put us in a restless state.  You do not need to over-intellectualize this.  Just find little tricks that can help you destress quickly and get back to your natural state of restfulness.

Claim your life – Life is not that complicated but it can be pretty confusing. Almost everybody you meet will try to tell you what is right. They have no idea. They are simply seeking validation. Look deep within. You already who you are and what you must do. You just need to realize it. Every year, take a week off for yourself. Find a place that puts you at peace and retreat to this place whenever you are faced with the big questions or feel weighed down and distracted.  When you need to get back in touch with yourself. When you need to shake off the impressions you have picked up along the way. The answers will present themselves.

Stay 21 forever – Here’s a technical fact.  If you can get old only if you stop growing, then the opposite must also be true.  Don’t stop growing and you will stay young forever.  As you achieve one milestone after another, maintain your humility and know that you have much to learn. That way you will keep exploring and keep growing.  You will become mature and become wise but you will not become old. Couple this with the enthusiasm of a child and life will be wondrous.

So, Happy Birthday Leshu and I hope you have a blessed year ahead.

Oh, one last thing – If it all gets much at times and you feel you need a rest, my suitcase awaits.  I will happily carry you along for as long as you like.


Can we have some service please?

The Anna Hazare saga and India’s corruption battle continues

One unintended consequence of the Hazare drama that unfolded yesterday was that it made me tune back into the talking heads on our news channels.  Something I had promised never to do, as my own silent protest, after the appalling show they put up post the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008.  If you are wondering where I get my news now, it’s mostly Twitter, although CNN, BBC, The Economist and WSJ do lend some perspective.

I have to confess, it was rather amusing.  At one end, there were the government representatives making yet another volte-face, and repeatedly underscoring that they have completely lost touch with the people of India.  The opposition, predictably so, once again politicized the issue in favor of their ‘Prime Minister in waiting’ proving that they never were in touch with the people of this country.

The media as usual was at its deafening best (where do they get these anchors? Love 'em :-)) labeling everything as breaking news and then proceeding to take credit for breaking it.  Of course there were the usual lawyers, film celebs, and political observers, who made even less sense.  One respectable looking lady questioned why Anna should be a leader and why others should not be leaders as well.  What??? (Couldn’t get myself to watch long enough to get her name)

With this circus in the background, I could not help thinking about what I would like to say to each of these venerable actors.  Here are my thoughts –

Mr. Prime Minister, it is time to take stock.  The response to every corruption allegation cannot be a counter-allegation.  Perhaps it is time to get back in touch with the ideals you were once respected for.  As honest and sincere as you might be, we need more passion and inspiration to ignite this nation.  It’s time to take a stand or sit down.

Mrs.Gandhi, every mother in this country salutes you for the love you have demonstrated for your son.  But holding a country of a billion and the entire polity ransom is perhaps too much.  The very love that gave you the drive to win two back-to-back elections appears to be tearing away at the fabric of your esteemed political party.  Perhaps it is time to stop protecting your son’s inheritance and focus instead on the burning problems this country is facing.

Mr. Advani, maybe it is time to consider actually imbibing some ideals in your political struggle. Opportunism can get you only so far in.  People want leaders and leaders are defined by the character they exhibit in the face of adversity.  By continually flip-flopping depending on the circumstances, you and your party have not really given this country any worthy alternatives, which is rather unfortunate.

Congress party spokespeople (you know who you are), where did you guys come from?  Why are you so angry?  Perhaps you should consider the existence of some deep-rooted childhood issues or sort out the domestic imbalances.  Such anger can only emanate from suppressed emotional trauma.

The media, please stop yelling.  I am scared to turn the TV on, literally.

And finally, the people of this country – Should we also, besides fighting for a stronger Lokpal bill, consider striking the word ‘Raj’ from our vocabularies as a reference to the government and never elect a politician who does so.

Raj, in English means rule, and until the day we allow our government to rule, can we really expect better?  Perhaps I am dreaming but the idea of Congress Seva as opposed to Congress Raj does seems appetizing.  I know that’s how the Mahatma dreamed it.

Jai Hind,


7/13 Mumbai attacked yet again

It is with a heavy heart that I write this note. Just as Mumbai was slowly beginning to gain confidence, terror struck again. Like you, the disgust, agony and helplessness I feel is overwhelming and is beyond words. Perhaps the only silver lining is that all my family, friends, and fellow-employees in People Group are safe.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this note. Just as Mumbai was slowly beginning to gain confidence, terror struck again. Like you, the disgust, agony and helplessness I feel is overwhelming and is beyond words. Perhaps the only silver lining is that all my family, friends, and fellow-employees in People Group are safe.

While we may not have the circle of influence to fix the broader issues in our country, maybe we can all do some things in our own small ways. Here are a few thoughts –

– Let’s not fan rumors. If you do not have confirmed news about something do not send chain emails and smses. They tend to create panic.

– If we happen to find ourselves in an unfortunate incident, let’s promise ourselves that we will help others. All too often people are too busy taking pictures rather than providing support.

– Let’s ensure that we will report any unidentified and suspicious package in any public place immediately.

– As a family unit, friend's circle, or as an organization, we should all plan how we would react in crisis situations.

Please think about what else we can do in our individual capacities and share your thoughts. Also, please observe 2 minutes in prayer for victims and their near and dear ones.

Will Microsoft be irrelevant 20 years from now? Probably …

Will Microsoft be irrelevant 20 years from now? Probably …

An incredible milestone in the history of computing – Internet Explorer marketshare falls below 50% for the first time -  http://bit.ly/dnxP1A – This is great news for consumers.  For several decades, Microsoft has had a strangle-hold on desktop computing and IE was a way to extend this dominance to the Inrternet world too.  Thankfully, things are not going in the direction MSFT intended.  My view is that for long, MSFT has stifled innovation through it's monopoly power and there was a fear that this would continue in an Internet computing economy.  Given the latest numbers on the browsers, and companies like Google and Facebook growing stronger by the day, the fear can perhaps be put to rest.  I will personally sleep better knowing that Internet computing will be charcaterized by healthy competition.

Now if only somebody could find a way to challenge Google’s control of Internet advertising.  Facebook, are you listening?

CWG – Another Lost Lesson?

Observations and a 4-point plan to clean up the CommonWealth Games (CWG) Fiasco

The CWG games have suddenly become an example of India's execution ability and efficiency and everyone is going all out to demonstrate what a great job we have done? Wow, what happened??

Being patriotic is one matter, being willful another.  All the celebrities, politicians, and regular citizens calling upon us to 'demonstrate the love for our country' by being positive about the games are perhaps forgetting two things –

1) Being in denial is almost always a strategy for failure

2) Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat their mistakes 

By simply hoping that the CWG is a bright example of India's capabilities we cannot wish away the corruption, arrogance, sheer disdain, and lack of basic human values and ethics of some of our politicians and bureaucrats.  Rather than live another lie for the next several decades, we need to use the CWG as an opportunity to learn and mold our laws, systems, and governance towards a better future.  

Sure, right now we need to focus and complete the job at hand – whatever it takes.  But by no means should we stifle public debate because we do not wish to embarrass ourselves in front of the world; by no means should we silence voices because we wish to show the world a positive image; by no means should media be ‘managed’ through politicians.  An independent media, discourse and debate are the hallmarks of a healthy democracy and in the end nations and people are judged by what they stood for and not merely the show they put up. 

Our face to the world needs to reflect trust, resilience, strength, commitment & integrity not delusion, disdain & corruption.  If we truly wish to build a lasting nation we first need to build a lasting idea – an idea of unified values and ethics around which a nation can then be built.  But a lasting idea requires conviction, commitment and courage.

Being the eternal optimist though, I am hoping that our government will take action as soon as the games are over.  From my limited view, here is a 4-point plan that can change the perception of the CWG fiasco from ‘the result of an incurable corrupt nation’ to that of a ‘blip in the journey towards becoming a developed country’ –

1) Form an autonomous body comprising of the top intelligence officials in the country reporting directly to the Prime Minister's Office with the mandate to complete the investigation into the CWG Mismanagement within 60 days.

2) Take the culprits to task without delay. Whether it is Sheila Dixit, Suresh Kalmadi, Gill, Reddy or all of them, they need to be punished and made an example of.  We cannot continue to tell our kids that ineptitude and corruption are acceptable.

3) Kick-off the process of separating Sports and Politics with an aggressive timeline.  Sports is a great unifying catalyst, especially in a country characterized by youth and a multitude of castes, communities, and religions. All our major issues – communal disharmony, social & economic inequality, crime, lack of education –   can be addressed to some degree through a far-sighted sports development plan. If visionaries like Mandela can try and propel an inter-racial country coming out of apartheid on the back of sports, surely a nation which has been free for over 60 years now can be galvanized around the same. Well, Mr. PM, the buck stops with you and if you don't see the power of sports find somebody who does, and empower him just like you did for Aadhaar, India's Unique Identity Program under Nandan Nilekani.

4) Put in place a body of young sports professionals  who can contribute to a framework that sets out .guidelines on bidding for global events and subsequently managing them.  Charge this body with responsibility and accountability to administer the same and create a single window clearance system under them for managing large sporting events which are in the national interest.

Of course, the above is simply a starting point and not a comprehensive plan.  I make no claim to having all the answers, but like the rest of us, I can tell when something stinks.

Make no mistake, I love my country and nothing would give me more happiness than to see us come out of the current mess with our heads held high.  However, simply manufacturing the perception that ‘all is well’ is not something my spirit can accept.  Spare me the hyperbole, deceit and lies and let’s focus instead on our ability, commitment and passion to be the best in the world. 

Jai Hind,

Anupam Mittal

P:S – Also, let's please stop with the conspiracy theories immediately.  If it isn's Pakistan, it is the western imperialists, western media and the CIA that have conspired to bring down the games?? Incredible as it sounds this is what Kalmadi alluded to. 

I have spent 10 years of my life in the west and I can emphaitically say that westerners love the idea of India, especially a progressive India.

Walking The Talk (email to People Interactive colleagues)

To really love the Internet, it must become a way of life for us in every way. As an organization, everything that we do, our process, systems, workflows, etc. need to be built around the Internet. As individuals you should be getting your news, weather, real-estate services, matrimonial connections, ringtones, gaming, and whatever else that it is you do from the Internet.

Hope you are all
well and 2010 is treating you well so far.  I am sure many of you have had the
chance to learn about People Way and what it means for you and the
organization.  Think of it as a behavioral roadmap for excellence.  However, it
can only add value to our lives and careers if we actually take the content very
seriously  and live the principles captured in People Way on a day to day
basis.  Let me explain with an example –

You may have read
the line 'We love the Internet' as part of our cultural definition.  However,
how many of us really do?  Sure, we all use the Internet to access information,
send emails, play games & network (which many of you usually do:-), book
airline tickets and so on.  But, if you have to ask yourself, if the Internet is
a way of life for us, many of us would come up short.  To really love the
Internet, it must become a way of life for us in every way.  As an organization,
everything that we do, our process, systems, workflows, etc. need to be built
around the Internet.  As individuals you should be getting your news, weather,
real-estate services, matrimonial connections, ringtones, gaming, and whatever
else that it is you do from the Internet. 

If you don't use Facebook or Twitter
actively, you are missing out on a free front row seat to the social web in the
making, a truly historic and revolutionary change that will impact our lives,
careers and opportunities forever.  What we are seeing today on the Internet
will be 10 times more impactful than the change portals and search
engines brought to our lives and businesses and if you don't try to understand
it while it is happening you will have compromised your skills

Besides helping you
understand your jobs better, active consumption of the the Social Web can help
you understand customers better.  It can help us engage with our customers in a
multi-faceted way that can leave them delighted with our brands and with us as
people.  Positive word-of-mouth is the holy grail as far as the Internet is
concerned and together we can create an incredible impact.

A quick example – Say
somebody tweets me on Twitter saying 'Makaan.com is not showing listings for
Mumbai'. Before I can retweet, Saif from Makaan.com dev tweets back saying
'looking into it', after 10 minutes Aditya tweets back saying it was a minor bug
but is up and running now.  I then end by retweeting, thanking the person who
made us aware for the feedback.  Turns out the customer has 2000 followers and
so tweets my message which eventually ends up reaching 50,000 people though the
various networks associated with his networks.  This delights a handful of
people and prompts them to send us suggestions to improve Makaan.com. What a
wonderful virtuous cycle!
  But not possible unless you love the

Think about the
above and you can see where I am going.  I can give you countless ways in which
we can get ahead of competition and stay there, if only we walk our talk.  So,
if you are a field employee or a senior exec and you do not use push email or
the mobile Internet you should be wondering if you are becoming irrelevant.  If
you are in PR and you are not obsessively active on the social web you are
already becoming irrelevant.  If you are in Mauj Mobile and you are not
downloading a couple of applications or content a week, you are perhaps far
removed from understanding our business.  If you are in Shaadi.com and you are not logging into the site regulary, you probably often find yourself coming up with
ideas that are not accepted.  I could go on and on and on but you get the
To preempt what you
are now thinking – when will we do our jobs if we waste our time on the
that is no excuse.  You have to find time.  You  have to
integrate it into your lives.  You have to substitute it for other media. 
You have to fill your empty moments with it.  People many times more
accomplished and busier than us are doing the same and they are doing it for a
reason …. because it is the biggest change we will see in our
I encourage all of
you to actively use the Social Web, Smart Phones, Applications, Downloads,
Vertical Searches and the like.  However, find ways of controlling it, don't let
it control you.  It must complement your job, not take away from it.  I realize
it will be a struggle initially but I know you will get a hold of it.  There's
millions of people already doing it effectively.
An Internet & Mobile

Countdown to Copenhagen

In less than 2 weeks Copenhagen will determine the fate of the planet. It is good to see that 3 of the world's largest polluter's – USA, China and India showing signs of constructive action. Personally, I believe that India should be as seen as leader in driving the climate change agenda as opposed to somebody who needs to be put in line. Pachuary delivering the opening speech should certainly raise our profile.