Category Archives: Humor

And what is funny Phaedrus, and what is not funnyneed we ask anyone to tell us these things?

A Chess Game

When I was a teenager, I used to be pretty good at chess. The highlight of my amateur chess career was in the late eighties when I beat Manuel Aaron, the nine-time Indian national champion and India’s first international master. True, it was only a simultaneous exhibition, and he was playing 32 of us. True, three others also beat him. StillEven more satisfying than beating the champion was the fact that my friend, whom we lovingly call Kutty, got beaten by Mr. Aaron. To understand why Kutty’s loss was sweeter than my win, we have to go back a few years.

DateAugust 1983. VenueNo. 20 Madras Mail. (To the uninitiatedthis was a train that took one from my hometown of Trivandrum to Madras. These cities were later renamed to Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai in a moment of patriotic inspiration; but I was away during that time and prefer the older, shorter names.) I was in the train going to my university (IIT, Madras) as a freshman. Unbeknownst to me, so was Kutty, who was sitting across the isle in the car (which we used to call a compartment or a bogie.) Soon we struck up a conversation and realized that we were going to be classmates. Kutty looked like a harmless characterall blinking eyes, thick glasses, easy grins and loud chuckles.MandakOurWing.jpg

Things were going pretty well until he noticed my magnetic chessboard among my stuff. All right, I admit it, I had arranged it so that people would notice it. You see, I was rather proud of this chessboard that my dear father got me as a gift (from a cousin working in thegulf,” of course). Kutty said, “Oh, you play chess?” He said it almost too casually, in a tone that rings alarm bells these days, thanks to experiences like what soon transpired in that baking oven of a train.

But, young and reckless as I was, I didn’t heed the warning. I used to think a lot of myself those daysa personality trait I haven’t quite outgrown, according to my better half. So I said, equally casually, “Yeah, do you?”

Yeah, on and off…”

Want to play a game?”

Sure.

After a few opening moves, Kutty asked me (rather admiringly, I thought at that time), “So, do you read a lot of books on chess?” I still remember this clearlyit was right after my fianchetto, and I honestly thought Kutty was regretting his decision to play chess with this unknown master. I think he asked a couple of more questions in the same vein — “Do you play in tournaments?” “Are you in your school team?” and so on. While I was sitting there feeling good, Kutty was, well, playing chess. Soon I found my fianchetto diagonal hopelessly blocked by three of my own pawns, and all my pieces stuck in molasses with nowhere to go. Twenty-odd excruciating moves later, it was I who sincerely regretted exhibiting my chessboard. You see, Kutty was the national chess champion of India, in the sub-junior section.

In our IIT lingo, it was thorough poling, that chess game, much like a lot of the games that followed, for I kept challenging Kutty during the next four years. You see, I have no qualms fighting impossible odds. Anyway, I learned a lot from him. Eventually, I could play blind chess with him without the benefit of a chessboard, as we once did during our one-hour bus ride from Mount Road to IIT after a late-night movie, shouting out things like Nf3 and 0-0 much to the annoyance of the rest of the gang. I remember telling Kutty that he couldn’t make a particular move because his knight was in that square.

Although I remember it that way, it is not likely that I would have seen something Kutty had missed. He could always see a couple of moves deeper and a couple of more variations. I remember another one of our train games, a rare one where I got the upper hand; I declared, impressively, “Mate in 14!” Kutty thought for a minute and said, “Not quite, I can get away after the 12th move.

Anyway, it was this first embarrassing chess game with Kutty that made his loss to Aaron doubly sweet. Kutty later told me that he had missed a fork, which was why he lost. Well, that may be. But you are not supposed to miss anything. Nothing is unimportant. Not in chess. Not in life.

Photo by soupboy

My First Car and My First Ticket

I bought my first car from an Iranian girl called Sherine for $350. This was in Syracuse, NY of the late eighties. By the act of buying, the car became mine, of course; but I still used to call it Sherine’s car for a couple of months after I bought it. And I got my first traffic ticket in Sherine’s car. I was on Comstock Avenue, going past Euclid when I went through what I thought was a bright yellow light. But the cop on Euclid Avenue begged to differ. He figured it must have been red for me because it had turned green for him. So he came after me, with his red and blue lights flashing.

I had been in the US only for a couple of months, and I wasn’t sure what the flashing lights meant. They meantpull over,” of course, but I didn’t pull over. So the cop turned on his siren and then I decided to stop, more out of curiosity, but only after turning into University Place in a vain attempt to shake him off. I switched off the ignition and stepped outanother dangerous move that could’ve gotten me killed, I was later told.

The cop looked a little displeased, understandably. He came over and uttered those four dreaded words, “License and registration please.After a lot of fishing, I produced the documents and the cop proceeded to write up something long and yellow. It was a ticket, but I had no clue what was going on, so I studied him with unabashed curiosity. The cop, who expected passionate entreaties or even an argument about my guiltlessness, was slightly surprised, I suppose.

He then handed me the yellow slip and told me that the light had turned green for him. “So here is your ticket,” he said. I had two competing thoughts on my mindI had to proclaim and establish my innocence, and figure out what this ticket was for. From where I came, tickets were a good thing; they portended entertainment or bus/train rides in the immediate future. I decided to give in to my curiosity and asked the cop. “Ticket? What do I do with it?”

Don’t worry; I’m going to explain it to you. There is a date and time here. You go to the court downtown then, and pay the fine for this offense.So this particular ticket portended no fun. Worse, I remembered Sherine warning me that moving violations meant higher insurance premiums forever. So I decided to clarify the issue with the officer right away. “Do you think my insurance premiums will go up because of this?” I asked him. For some reason, the cop looked a bit annoyed. He said, “Listen pal, I’m just a cop; I’m not your insurance agent.

I must’ve looked hurt, for the cop soon turned friendly. Glancing at my buttoned up shirt with brown stripes at odd angles and judging accurately that my accent came from a land far away from upstate New York, he counseled, “Here’s what you do. You go to the court and tell the judge that you didn’t do it. Then they will call me, and it is going to be your word against mine. You may get away with it.

So next Tuesday 10 AM, I went to the court downtown Syracuse. I wisely showed up a bit earlier than my appointed hour to survey the scene and learn how these things were done. My docket came up and the honorable judge, an imposing figure that looked like a female version of Morgan Freeman, started reading out with impressive dignity, “State of New York vs. Mr. Th.. ThuTh…” The tongue-twister of a surname had her floored. She looked helplessly around trying to maintain her composure. I decided to step up and help her out. “Not guilty, your honor,” I said emphatically.

For some reason, Judge Freeman didn’t look happy. She turned to someone to her right, who later proved to be the assistant DA, and asked him to handle the situation. I stuck to my guns. “Not guilty,” I proclaimed to the DA as well. He looked amused. “All right kid, I hear you. Come with me.He took me to a room and we embarked on a plea bargain of sorts. He offeredDriving while visibility impaired,” which horrified me. “Ability impairedI knew meant possible jail term, and with my limited exposure to Americanese, I wasn’t sure if they were locking me up for good. But the DA assured me that it was only $25 and that they took checks. Upon further astute inquiries from my side, he revealed that my insurance premiums would stay intact as well.

All in all, it was a pleasant introduction to the American legal system, which looks formidable and scary from the outside (from John Grisham’s books, for instance). Americans are a strange bunch that way. Taken individually (granting that I have known them personally only in a university setting or as a co-passenger-in-a-flight kind of setting), they always turn out to be nice and generous souls. But embedded in a system, or as group, or even as a nation, they often come across as hard-hearted and less than generous. I wonder why

An Office Survival Guide

Let’s face itpeople job hop. They do it for a host of reasons, be it better job scope, nicer boss, and most frequently, fatter paycheck. The grass is often greener on the other side. Really. Whether you are seduced by the green allure of the unknown or venturing into your first pasture, you often find yourself in a new corporate setting.

In the unforgiving, dog-eat-dog corporate jungle, you need to be sure of the welcome. More importantly, you need to prove yourself worthy of it. Fear not, I’m here to help you through it. And I will gladly accept all credit for your survival, if you care to make it public. But I regret that we (this newspaper, me, our family members, dogs, lawyers and so on) cannot be held responsible for any untoward consequence of applying my suggestions. Come on, you should know better than to base your career on a newspaper column!

This disclaimer brings me naturally to the first principle I wanted to present to you. Your best bet for corporate success is to take credit for all accidental successes around you. For instance, if you accidentally spilled coffee on your computer and it miraculously resulted in fixing the CD-ROM that hadn’t stirred in the last quarter, present it as your innate curiosity and inherent problem solving skills that prompted you to seek an unorthodox solution.

But resist all temptation to own up to your mistakes. Integrity is a great personality trait and it may improve your karma. But, take my word for it, it doesn’t work miracles on your next bonus. Nor does it improve your chances of being the boss in the corner office.

If your coffee debacle, for instance, resulted in a computer that would never again see the light of day (which, you would concede, is a more likely outcome), your task is to assign blame for it. Did your colleague in the next cubicle snore, or sneeze, or burp? Could that have caused a resonant vibration on your desk? Was the cup poorly designed with a higher than normal centre of gravity? You see, a science degree comes in handy when assigning blame.

But seriously, your first task in surviving in a new corporate setting is to find quick wins, for the honeymoon will soon be over. In today’s workplace, who you know is more important than what you know. So start networkingstart with your boss who, presumably, is already impressed. He wouldn’t have hired you otherwise, would he?

Once you reach the critical mass in networking, switch gears and give an impression that you are making a difference. I know a couple of colleagues who kept networking for ever. Nice, gregarious folks, they are ex-colleagues now. All talk and no work is not going to get them far. Well, it may, but you can get farther by identifying avenues where you can make a difference. And by actually making a bit of that darned difference.

Concentrate on your core skills. Be positive, and develop a can-do attitude. Find your place in the corporate big picture. What does the company do, how is your role important in it? At times, people may underestimate you. No offence, but I find that some expats are more guilty of underestimating us than fellow Singaporeans. Our alleged gracelessness may have something to do with it, but that is a topic for another day.

You can prove the doubters wrong through actions rather than words. If you are assigned a task that you consider below your level of expertise, don’t fret, look at the silver lining. After all, it is something you can do in practically no time and with considerable success. I have a couple of amazingly gifted friends at my work place. I know that they find the tasks assigned to them ridiculously simple. But it only means that they can impress the heck out of everybody.

Corporate success is the end result of an all out war. You have to use everything you have in your arsenal to succeed. All skills, however unrelated, can be roped in to help. Play golf? Invite the CEO for a friendly. Play chess? Present it as the underlying reason for your natural problem solving skills. Sing haunting melodies in Chinese? Organize a karaoke. Be known. Be recognized. Be appreciated. Be remembered. Be missed when you are gone. At the end of the day, what else is there in life?

Sophistication

Sophistication is a French invention. The French are masters when it comes to nurturing, and more importantly, selling sophistication. Think of some expensive (and therefore classy) brands. Chances are that more than half of the ones that spring to mind would be French. And the other half would be distinctly French sounding wannabes. This world domination in sophistication is impressive for a small country of the size and population of Thailand.

How do you take a handbag manufactured in Indonesia, slap on a name that only a handful of its buyers can pronounce, and sell it for a profit margin of 1000%? You do it by championing sophistication; by being an icon that others can only aspire to be, but never ever attain. You know, kind of like perfection. No wonder Descartes said something that sounded suspiciously like, “I think in French, therefore I am!” (Or was it, “I think, therefore I am French”?)

I am amazed by the way the French manage to have the rest of the world eat things that smell and taste like feet. And I stand in awe of the French when the world eagerly parts with their hard earned dough to gobble up such monstrosities as fattened duck liver, fermented dairy produce, pig intestines filled with blood, snails, veal entrails and whatnot.

The French manage this feat, not by explaining the benefits and selling points of these, ahem…, products, but by a perfecting a supremely sophisticated display of incredulity at anyone who doesn’t know their value. In other words, not by advertising the products, but by embarrassing you. Although the French are not known for their physical stature, they do an admirable job of looking down on you when needed.

I got a taste of this sophistication recently. I confessed to a friend of mine that I never could develop a taste for caviarthat quintessential icon of French sophistication. My friend looked askance at me and told me that I must have eaten it wrong. She then explained to me the right way of eating it. It must have been my fault; how could anybody not like fish eggs? And she would know; she is a classy SIA girl.

This incident reminded me of another time when I said to another friend (clearly not as classy as this SIA girl) that I didn’t quite care fore Pink Floyd. He gasped and told me never to say anything like that to anybody; one always loved Pink Floyd.

I should admit that I have had my flirtations with bouts of sophistication. My most satisfying moments of sophistication came when I managed to somehow work a French word or expression into my conversation or writing. In a recent column, I managed to slip intête-à-tête,” although the unsophisticated printer threw away the accents. Accents add a flourish to the level of sophistication because they confuse the heck out of the reader.

The sneaking suspicion that the French may have been pulling a fast one on us crept up on me when I read something that Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) wrote. He wondered what this ISO 9000 fad was all about. Those who secure the ISO certification proudly flaunt it, while everybody else seems to covet it. But does anyone know what the heck it is? Adams conjectured that it was probably a practical joke a bunch of inebriated youngsters devised in a bar. “ISOsounded very much likeIz zat ma beer?” in some eastern European language, he says.

Could this sophistication fad also be a practical joke? A French conspiracy? If it is, hats off to the French!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Francophobe. Some of my best friends are French. It is not their fault if others want to imitate them, follow their gastronomical habits and attempt (usually in vain) to speak their tongue. I do it tooI swear in French whenever I miss an easy shot in badminton. After all, why waste an opportunity to sound sophisticated, n’est-ce pas?

MoneyLove it or Hate it

Whatever its raison-d’etre may be, there is a need for more, and an unquenchable greed. And paradoxically, if you want to try to quench a bit of your greed, the best way to do it is to fan the greed in others. This is why the email scams (you know, the Nigerian banker requesting your help in moving $25 million of unclaimed inheritance, or the Spanish lottery eager to give you 67 million Euros) still hold a fascination for us, even when we know that we will never fall for it.

There is only a thin blurry line between the schemes that thrive on other people’s greed and confidence jobs. If you can come up with a scheme that makes money for others, and stay legal (if not moral), then you will make yourself very rich. We see it most directly in the finance and investment industry, but it is much more widespread than that. We can see that even education, traditionally considered a higher pursuit, is indeed an investment against future earnings. Viewed in that light, you will understand the correlation between the tuition fees at various schools and the salaries their graduates command.

When I started writing this column, I thought I was making up this new field called the Philosophy of Money (which, hopefully, somebody would name after me), but then I read up something on the philosophy of mind by John Searle. It turned out that there was nothing patentable in this idea, nor any cash to be made, sadly. Money comes under the umbrella of objective social realities that are quite unreal. In his exposition of the construction of social reality, Searle points out that when they give us a piece of paper and say that it is legal tender, they are actually constructing money by that statement. It is not a statement about its attribute or characteristics (likeThis is a glass of water”) so much as a statement of intentionality that makes something what it is (likeYou are my hero”). The difference between my being a hero (perhaps only to my six-year-old) and money being money is that the latter is socially accepted, and it is as objective a reality as any.

I conclude this article with the nagging suspicion that I may not have argued my point well enough. I started it with the premise that money is an unreal meta-thing, and wound up asserting its objective reality. This ambivalence of mine may be a reflection of our collective love-hate relationship with moneyperhaps not such a bad way to end this column after all.

Photo by 401(K) 2013

MoneyWhy do We Crave it?

Given that the investment value is also measured and returned in terms of money, we get the notion of compound interest andputting money to work.Those who have money demand returns based on the investment risk they are willing to assume. And the role of modern financial system becomes one of balancing this risk-reward equation. Finance professionals focus on the investment value of money to make oodles of it. It not so much that they take your money as deposits, lend it out as loans, and earn the spread. Those simple times are gone for good. The banks make use of the fact that investors demand the highest possible return for the lowest possible risk. Any opportunity to push this risk-reward envelope is a profit potential. When they make money for you, they demand their compensation and you are happy to pay it.

Put it that way, investment sounds like a positive concept, which it is, in our current mode of thinking. We can easily make it a negative thing by portraying the demand for the investment value of money as greed. It then follows that all of us are greedy, and that it is our greed that fuels the insane compensation packages of top-level executives. Greed also fuels fraudponzi and pyramid schemes.

Indeed, any kind of strong feeling that you have can be bought and sold for personal gain of others. It may be your genuine sympathy for the Tsunami or earthquake victims, your voyeuristic disgust at the peccadilloes of golf icons or presidents, charitable feeling toward kidney patients of whatever. And the way money is made out of your feelings may not be obvious at all. Watching the news five minutes longer than usual because of a natural disaster may bring extra fortune to the network’s coffers. But of all the human frailties one can make money out of, the easiest is greed, I think. Well, I may be wrong; it may actually be that frailty that engendered the oldest profession. But I would think that the profession based on the lucrative frailty of greed wasn’t all that far behind.

If we want to exploit other people’s greed, the first thing to ask ourselves is this: why do we want money, given that it is a meta-entity? I know, we all need money to live. But I am not talking about the need part. Assuming the need part is taken care of, we still want more of it. Why? Say you are a billionaire. Why would you want another billion? I think the answer lies in something philosophical, something of an existential angst, although those with their billions would the last ones to admit it. The reason behind this deep-rooted need for more is a quest for a validation, or a justification for our existence, and a meaning and purpose for our life. It is all part of that metaphorical holy grail. I know, it sounds a bit nutty, but what else could it be? The Des Cartes of our time would say, “I have loads of money, therefore I am!”

The Ultra Rich

Let’s first take a look at how people make money. Loads of it. Apparently, it is one of the most frequently searched phrases in Google, and the results usually attempt to separate you from your cash rather than help you make more of it.

To be fair, this column won’t give you any get-rich-quick, sure-fire schemes or strategies. What it will tell you is why and how some people make money, and hopefully uncover some new insights. You may be able to put some of these insights to work and make yourself richif that’s where you think your happiness lies.

By now, it is clear to most people that they cannot become filthy rich by working for somebody else. In fact, that statement is not quite accurate. CEOs and top executives all work for the shareholders of the companies that employ them, but are filthy rich. At least, some of them are. But, in general, it is true that you cannot make serious money working in a company, statistically speaking.

Working for yourselfif you are very lucky and extremely talentedyou may make a bundle. When we hear the wordrich,” the people that come to mind tend to be

  1. entrepreneurs/industrialists/software mogulslike Bill Gates, Richard Branson etc.,
  2. celebritiesactors, writers etc.,
  3. investment professionalsWarren Buffet, for instance, and
  4. fraudsters of the Madoff school.

There is a common thread that runs across all these categories of rich people, and the endeavors that make them their money. It is the notion of scalability. To understand it well, let’s look at why there is a limit to how much money you can make as a professional. Let’s say you are a very successful, highly-skilled professionalsay a brain surgeon. You charge $10k a surgery, of which you perform one a day. So you make about $2.5 million a year. Serious money, no doubt. How do you scale it up though? By working twice as long and charging more, may be you can make $5 million or $10 million. But there is a limit you won’t be able to go beyond.

The limit comes about because the fundamental economic transaction involves selling your time. Although your time may be highly-skilled and expensive, you have only 24 hours of it in a day to sell. That is your limit.

Now take the example of, say, John Grisham. He spends his time researching and writing his best-selling books. In that sense, he sells his time as well. But the big difference is that he sells it to many people. And the number of people he sells his product to may have an exponential dependence on its quality and, therefore, the time he spends on it.

We can see a similar pattern in software products like Windows XP, performances by artists, sports events, movies and so on. One performance or accomplishment is sold countless times. With a slight stretch of imagination, we can say that entrepreneurs are also selling their time (that they spend setting up their businesses) multiple times (to customers, clients, passengers etc.) All these money-spinners work hard to develop some kind of exponential volume-dependence on the quality of their products or the time they spend on them. This is the only way to address the scalability issue that comes about due to the paucity of time.

Investment professionals (bankers) do it too. They develop new products and ideas that they can sell to the masses. In addition, they make use of a different aspect of money that we touched upon in an earlier column. You see, money has a transactional value. It plays the role of a medium facilitating economic exchanges. In financial transactions, however, money becomes the entity that is being transacted. Financial systems essentially move money from savings and transforms it into capital. Thus money takes on an investment value, in addition to its intrinsic transactional value. This investment value is the basis of interest.

Philosophy of Money

Money is a strange thing. It is quite unlike any otherthingthat we know. Its value manifests itself only in a social context where we have pre-agreed conventions as to what it should be. In this sense, money is not a thing at all, but a meta-thing, which is why you are happy when your boss gives you a letter stating that you got a fat bonus even though you never actually see the physical thing. Well, if it is not physical, it is metaphysical, and we can certainly talk about the philosophy of money.

The first indication of the meta-ness of money comes from the fact that it has a value only when we assign it a value. It doesn’t possess an intrinsic value that, for instance, water does. If you are thirsty, you find that water has enormous intrinsic value. Of course, if you have money, you can buy water (or Perrier, if you want to be sophisticated), and quench your thirst.

But we may find ourselves in situations where we may not be able to buy things with money. Stranded in a desert, for instance, dying of thirst, we may not be able to buy water despite our sky-high credit limits or the hundreds of dollars we may have in our wallet. One reason for this inability of ours is obviouswe may be alone. The basic transactional value of money evaporates when we have nobody to transact with.

The second dimension of the meta-ness of money is economical. It is illustrated in the well-worn supply-and-demand principle, assuming transactional liquidity (which is a term I just cooked up to sound erudite, I confess). I mean to say, even if we have willing sellers of water in the desert, they may see that we are dying for it and jack up the pricejust because we are willing and able to pay. This apparent ripping off on the part of the devious vendors of water (perfectly legal, by the way) is possible only if the commodity in question is in plentiful supply. We need commodity liquidity, as it were.

It is when the liquidity dries up that the fun begins. The last drop of water in a desert has infinite intrinsic value. This effect may look similar to the afore-mentioned supply-and-demand phenomenon, but it really is different. The intrinsic value dominates everything else, much like the strong force over short distances in particle physics. And this domination is the flipside of the law of diminishing marginal utility in economics.

The thing that looks a bit bizarre about money is that it seems to run counter to the law of diminishing marginal utility. The more money you have, the more you want it. Now, why is that? It is especially strange given its lack of intrinsic value. Great financial minds could not figure it out, but came up with pithy and memorable statements like, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.Although that particular genius was only fictional, he does epitomize much of the thinking in the modern corporate and financial world. Good or bad, let’s assume that greed is an essential part of human nature and look at what we can do with it. Note that I want to do somethingwithit, notaboutitan important distinction. I, intrepid columnist that I am, want to show you how to use other people’s greed to make more money.

Photo by 401(K) 2013

If Time Died Now, I Would Be Happy

I dream strange dreams. Thankfully, I don’t usually remember them. But at times, I do remember some, and they provide a lot of entertainment. One recent dream was of a TV interview, going on in a mall. The person being interviewed was a stranger, as the protagonists of my dreams tend to be. This guy was middle-eastern, either Iraqi or Iranian, and was talking about a kid who he was about to adopt. The kid turned out to be a child prodigy, and was flying away somewhere for specialized training. The interviewee, though a bit sad, was philosophical about it. At that moment, there was a background song in the mall that went like, “If time died now, I would be happy.And the man says, “Yes, that is the way I feel!”

I remember feeling, in my dream, “Yeah, right! The right song just happened to be playing!” Way too skeptical even in my dreams. Not to mention that there is not such song (as far as I know). If you think this dream is weird, I once dreamed up an unknown (and non-existent) word while reading a book. I even tried looking up the word when I woke up, but in vain, of course.

One of my top dreams was when I was invited to the White House by President Bush (junior) right after his inauguration. As I stepped into what appeared to be a decent sized living room, the President was walking down a flight of stairs. And he asked me, “So. Do you still think I’m dumb?” Now, how did he know how I felt?

Coming back to my time-dying dream, there is something else that is a bit weird. I mean, one would normally say, “If I died now, I would die a happy manor something to that effect. Why wouldtimedie? Is it my secret conviction that when one dies, one’stimealso dies? That there is no common, universal time, but only our own, individual, personal times? Perhaps. I’m not talking about Newton’s universal times vs. Einstein’s relative time. There is something philosophical here that is just beyond my grasp. Like a name at the tip of your tongue. These are deep waters, and I really need to learn more. Back to school, some day

The fanciest of my dreams? I was James Bond once. Complete with a bicycle that turned into a wooden canoe when I hit the local beach.

Talent and Intelligence

In the last post, I argued that how hard we work has nothing much to do with how much reward we should reap. After all, there are taxi drivers who work longer and harder, and even more unfortunate souls in the slums of India and other poor countries.

But, I am threading on real thin ice when I compare, however obliquely, senior executives to cabbies and slum dogs. They are (the executives, that is) clearly a lot more talented, which brings me to the famous talent argument for bonuses. What is this talent thing? Is it intelligence and articulation? I once met a taxi driver in Bangalore who was fluent in more than a dozen languages as disparate as English and Arabic. I discovered his hidden talent by accident when he cracked up at something my father said to mea private joke in our vernacular, which I have seldom found a non-native speaker attempt. I couldn’t help thinking thengiven another place and another time, this cabbie would have been a professor in linguistics or something. Talent may be a necessary condition for success (and bonus), but it certainly is not a sufficient one. Even among slum dogs, we might find ample talent, if the Oscar-winning movie is anything to go by. Although, the protagonist in the movie does make his million dollar bonus, but it was only fiction.

In real life, however, lucky accidents of circumstances play a more critical role than talent in putting us on the right side of the income divide. To me, it seems silly to claim a right to the rewards based on any perception of talent or intelligence. Heck, intelligence itself, however we define it, is nothing but a happy genetic accident.

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