Saturday, October 29, 2022

A corporate leader pens a novel


Former Ashok Leyland CEO and well-known business leader, R Seshasayee, has a penned a novel, A Dance of Faith. It is an utterly charming work.

The novel is about a Muslim boy in a village in Tamil Nadu who develops an interest in dance while at school. It turns later into an irresistible craving to learn Bharata Natyam. After a great deal of struggle, he finds a teacher in Chennai who is willing to accept him and even help him out financially in his quest.

Seshasayee weaves out of this story-line a tapestry comprising many elements: the conflicts and turmoil in the mind of the Muslim boy as he pursues his quest; family relationships; village life with its many restrictions, prejudices and cruelties; the cultural life of Chennai' and musings about life, religion, art, music and dance. All of this is captured with a deep sense of irony and dashes of humour.

The characters in the novel come alive and their voices are authentic. The reader is left in no doubt as to the literary quality of this debut novel. I particularly liked the Tamil flavor to the novel-  there is a smell of rasam and sambar in the last part.

Two things that struck me were Seshasayee’s grasp of a range of literary techniques and his exquisite turns of phrase. I have known the author for a while now. I must confess I never suspected that he harboured literary talent of such an order.  I have little doubt that his first novel will be acclaimed as a considerable achievement.




Friday, October 28, 2022

Elon Musk takes control of Twitter

It can happen only in the US. 

Elon Musk, who will soon formally become the owner of Twitter, entered the headquarters of the firm dressed in casuals and carrying a kitchen sink. He tweeted the image later with the legend, "Let that sink in". The remark was a reference to the changes he had in mind for Twitter. 

Can you imagine the CEO of an Indian company announcing his arrival in similar terms? Even if he or she had wanted to carry a sink, there would have been an orderly carrying it. Casuals are also an unlikely possibility. And the fellow would have had an army of flunkeys around him.

Musk has reassured employees that he has no plans to prune 75 per cent of the staff as has been speculated. He has also reassured advertisers:

" Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences! ....In addition to adhering to the laws of the land, our platform must be warm and welcoming to all, where you can choose your desired experience according to your preferences, just as you can choose, for example, to see movies or play video games ranging from all ages to mature....Fundamentally, Twitter aspires to be the most respected advertising platform in the world that strengthens your brand and grows your enterprise.”

There is scepticism about Musk's intentions. Many think that easing of content moderation means that extreme statements will become acceptable on Twitter. They believe right-wing extremists will have a free run.

It would be wise to put one's judgement on the deal on hold. Musk is too shrewd a businessman to compromise the worth of the brand. If Twitter degenerates into a platform for abuse, the brand will be seriously undermined. 

It is reasonable to hope that Musk will do what he think is necessary to protect and grow the business. I am reminded of the grim prophecies that accompanied Rupert Murdoch's takeover of Wall Street Journal many years ago. People said it would be the end of the sort of journalism WSJ was known for. Well, they have been proved wrong. WSJ remains pretty much what it was- except that Murdoch managed to turn it around commercially after investing millions of dollars in the paper.

Don't underestimate the competence of top businessmen - or of top politicians.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Early assessments of Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has become PM after Liz Truss's short-lived tenure. It was a period in which the government's ill-conceived fiscal proposals sent the financial markets into turmoil. You could say that after that disaster, anybody would be an improvement.

That's ok, but can can we expect anything more? A columnist in FT, Janan Ganesh, thinks that Sunak's competence is over-rated:

He has crammed a lot of misjudgments into a short career. Among the prime ministers since the EU referendum of 2016, two voted Remain (Theresa May, Liz Truss) and one (Boris Johnson) embraced Leave with the tardiness of an opportunist. Britain is now led for the first time by someone who believed with real fervour that Brexit was a good idea. The lost trade, the forfeited fiscal receipts: he failed to anticipate these costs, or overrated the ease of making them up elsewhere. He does not even have the excuse of being a nostalgic. There was and is a coherent traditionalist case for Brexit. There was never a liberal or free-market one. How a man of modernist, pro-growth sensibilities came to believe otherwise is not just an academic mystery. It forces the question of what other eccentric choices he might make as head of government.

Ganesh still thinks that Sunak is a good choice because of his rectitude. I thought the writer was talking about his integrity in financial matters. No, it's not that. 

Ganesh thinks that Sunak took a principled position in quitting Johnson's cabinet after its murkiness crossed limits. Well, I am not sure. There are many who saw it as opportunism, a case of jumping off  a sinking ship. Johnson supporters saw it as back-stabbing on Sunak's part. It's rather naive to think that there is much room for principle at that level of politics- if you were constrained by principle, you would not survive. Look at what happened to Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour party.

A more perceptive article in Russia Today sees the Conservative party as riven by divisions between the old and new elites. The old elites believed were somewhat wary of globalism, identity politics, transgender rights and the rest. They were more inclined towards traditional values such as nationalism, family, Christian work ethic, etc. These divisions explain the conflict between the pro- Brexit brigade (to which Sunak belongs) and the anti-Brexit brigade. The writer thinks these divisions doom the Conservative party. Sunak does not have the skills to achieve a reconciliation:

.....if the party is to survive, even in the short term, it needs a head with real stature and genuine political skills. Rishi Sunak, who has just become the new leader, does not even come close to fitting this bill.  

The writer thinks Sunak will not last till Christmas, which implies he will give close competition to Truss! Well, we'll wait and see.