The 21st Century’s Cold War is the Office Air Conditioner

Elon Musk has managed to float an electric car in space, we’re transplanting animal organs into human bodies, and we have even achieved recreating meat in the laboratory. We have all of this technological progress and finesse at our feet, but there is a final problem we still don’t have the solution for: the office air conditioner.
That seven people in a co-working space can’t agree on a mutual AC temperature must surely be one of the biggest questions of this age. In a world where Google can provide the answer to every question, why does the air conditioner stand in the way of complete collegial harmony?
One reason could be that we can’t get the language right. If you really look at it, “temperature kam karo,” is an ambiguous command, open for interpretation. Does it mean yanking up the warmth? Does it mean that your colleagues could do with more chill (they almost always do)? Lloyd has come up with an AC that has WiFi and AC remotes these days have more buttons than a PlayStation controller. But every AC in every office still has only two modes: igloo and desert.
Which would have been OK if you’re from Delhi. However, for the rest of the working population in the country, this “blow hot, blow cold” attitude leads to intense internal politicking.
One brave soul will break the ice and ask the rhetorical question “Isn’t it too hot here?” Nobody wants to force their personal preference on other people and this soft approach is the best way to gain consensus. After all, there’s centuries of empirical evidence that democracies work better than dictatorships. You can’t just change the AC temperature because you feel a certain way. All you need is someone else to also validate your personal condition, or suddenly it just becomes only “your” problem.
Another area of conflict in office is – who should be the custodian of the AC remote? The remote in an Indian office gets passed around more frequently than a soft toy in the passing-the-parcel game at a toddler’s birthday party. Everyone is constantly on the lookout for where the damned thing is, since it always has a sneaky habit of hiding under a mound of tissue paper in the pantry. Maintaining a clear line of sight for the remote at all times is more difficult than the job of an American sniper. Just like dogs mark their territory, desi colleagues mark the AC remote and the acceptable range it is allowed to travel.
After spending a few months in office, distinct groups are formed that lobby together to have their say over AC temperatures. You tend to get along well with people around you who have the same “AC taste” as you. People who don’t agree with the decision have their own passive aggressive ways to show discontent. This can sometimes devolve into an ugly battle of the sexes, although not always.
You’ll find the people divided over the climate change debate, wearing sweaters in Mumbai in the middle of May. You start sweating with just the thought that there is that much wool making contact with their skin. At times, folks will just get up and move to a different place, but in this very loud and overt way, making sure that you’ve noticed their movement, a not-so-subtle way of letting you know that you’ve driven them out of their preferred seat, and by the way, you’re also on asshole. Out of nowhere, someone will loudly make a call to the office boy and ask, “Yaar who changed the AC temperature?” The tone is arrogant and seemed to be aimed at office help but it is actually directed at other personnel in office.
In a country of immense diversity in food, language, culture and tradition, we still struggle to come to an agreed solution in the simple binary of hot and cold. This is the real cold war of the 21st century and there seems to be no imminent solution in sight.

Desi Parent Trap: “Abhi Mehnat Kar Lo, You Can Enjoy Later”

Every desi kid has been told three things, growing up: “Paise ped pe nahi ugte”, “Shor karoge to bhoot aa jayega”, and “Abhi mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai”. While the first is just a plain hard fact, the second is a sly tactic to get you in order that neither party believes, while the third is a sadistic, evil, and dangerous trap.
Everyone vividly remembers the first time they fell for it: the big 10. Your tenth grade board exams is the first big test of your life and it’s hyped up like an end-of-the-world war which will determine whether you live or die. Teachers are blunt: “If you don’t score well, how will you ever make anything of your life?” Parents are a little more subtle. When you’re watching TV and a nariyal wala, a thelawala, or any blue-collar worker shows up, their response is, “Dekho padhai nahi karoge na to ye sab karna padega,” delivering a dual blow: One to your ego, and the other to the dignity of labour. Fuck PokemonWWE, and cricket, getting a good score in the 10th grade is treated with the same level single-minded concentration as Hrithik Roshan displayed in becoming a good soldier in Lakshya. After all, abhi mehnat kar lete hai, baad mein to aish hai.
You kill every impulse, compromise every aspect of your life, and tirelessly work like a Soviet worker at the gulag. Of course, you ace your board exams, and are all ready for a life full of aish. As you begin the inevitable planning for a celebratory party, the parental unit taps you on the shoulder and reminds you: It’s not time for “injwoyment” just yet. Another storm awaits in the form of your 12th-grade exams.
Your 10th score is casually dismissed, like a beef-related lynching in Uttar Pradesh or Haryana. Securing admission to a good college is now the new mission, and just like The Fast and the Furious franchise, the same characters are saying and doing the same things, but in a different set-up. Bas ek baar ache college mein admission ho jaaye, baad mein aish hai.
You look forward to college life the same way Diljit Dosanjh looks forward to a Kylie Jenner Instagram post. After all, aish time is upon you and you’ll party like it’s 1999. However, excitement is short-lived, as the party is crashed on the orientation day itself, when the college principal telling you these are the “most important years” of your life “that will decide your career”. The buzzwords are already getting to you now, and you are overwhelmed by a nagging sense of yeh saare milke humko pagal bana rahe hai madar…
By now, your enthusiasm is beginning to lose its sheen. You’re a little world-weary and you feel a little like India, four years after 2014, hoping against hope for acche din.
You go to tuitions and coaching classes where professors are just raising the stakes all the time like an IPL auction, belittling your school success with “college exams are the only ones that matter”. If you don’t get good scores, how will you get a good job? For the fourth time in six years, your life has a new defining moment. Just like Dairy Milk after the keeda fiasco, the same chocolate has a different packaging and now you’re told “Abhi mehnat kar lo, college ke baad toh aish hai."
You get out of a college with a reputable degree and that diminishing voice in your head asks you to hang on to hope. Maybe now, you think, finally it’s time for aish. No one is going to fucking ruin your party. You’ve done all this mehnat the entire decade and it is finally time to chill and mint money.
You walk into your first job with the confidence of Harvey Specter only to be shot down like a US drone in the Middle East. And even here, there is no respite. Whispers of the same fucking catchphrase float about, and each one leaves an exit wound in your soul. “Bas pehle thode saal mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai”. The cut-throat competition doesn’t even allow you to take a lunch break in peace, and the low-paying jobs ensure that the only place where you can afford a house is in the game of Monopoly.
You start to wonder and ask yourself: When will this mystical era of aish arrive? Do we just keep slogging away the best years of our life – school, college, early 20s – to never be able to enjoy? It dawns upon you that there’s no way you will be able to retire anytime soon and by the time you might have some leeway, you’ll become ancient like the statues at Khajuraho that are defiled by everyone from Sonu to Tina.
What aish will you have when your spine looks like a question mark and you lose your breath after every three steps? Instead of dessert and drinks, you’ll be consuming injections and pills. At that age, the only fun you can have is getting six uninterrupted hours of sleep. You realise that all of this aish talk – indeed your entire life – has been a lie, just like the planet Pluto and whatever character JK Rowling plans to manipulate this week.
“Abhi mehnat kar lo, baad mein aish hai” is the original Fake News of the world. Don’t fall for it.

Nirav Modi’s Honest Letter to Punjab National Bank

Dear Punjab National Bank,
It’s been a rough week. When the news broke that I had defrauded banks worth ₹3000 crore, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I broke down in my million-dollar 27-room villa in Antwerp and almost didn’t go partying that night. I wanted to sit back and weep. Firstly, because the figure was wrong (it was actually upward of ₹11,300 crore) and that was so insulting. Secondly, because everyone was saying I had run away from the country, when the truth was that I had flown away in a private jet. BTW, it took me less time to reach Belgium than it did for me to travel from my South Bombay home to the airport.
What’s really disappointed me is that after being in a steady relationship for more than seven years, you suddenly went “It’s not you, it’s me” on me, and headed to the CBI. What were you thinking? Given the CBI’s illustrious record of single-digit convictions in corruption cases over the last 50 years, you need to think closely if giving up on our relationship has been worth it?
And what a beautiful relationship it was. Everything was going right: You were making crores from the money you lent me fraudulently, and I was using that fradulent money to make more money not just for myself, but also for Piggy Chops who has been having a hard time rolling with all the Quantico jokes. We were like those cute teenage couples who had reached the “share passwords” stage of commitment, which in this world, where everyone is just DTF, is a big thing.
You don’t realise how many people you’ve hurt with this selfish behaviour. Mr Gokulnath Shetty, a perfectly lovely gentleman who had been of great help all these years, will now be rotting in jail as I binge-watch the next season of Black Mirror on Netflix. Mere LOU ke chakkar mein, unke LOUde lag gaye. Don’t you have any integrity? At least I ensured that everyone involved on my side of the fraud had flown out of the country and could not be traced!
And what did you do all this for? Money? It’s barely even a real thing, just a few SWIFT messaging codes. All it would have taken for the loan to go away was another loan, so I could pay off your previous one. As it turns out, diamonds are forever, but credit is not.
Money, dear PNB, is not everything. There is so much more to life. Have you not seen ZNMD? Trust you to make everything about money.  I’m sick of this talk of money. You want more money, so do 25 other banks. Even Priyanka Chopra wants more money. Suddenly, people I have never met in my life also claim I stole their money. This has become a #MeToo movement of the financial world, and I have become its first casualty. All triggered by you, PNB. You have managed to destroy my brand faster than Salman Khan managed to destroy Vivek Oberoi’s acting career.
Now that we’ve parted ways, I can see you’ve already set your claim over half of my assets. Go ahead, PNB, break my heart, but remember that I will always LOU you.
Yours Heartbroken,
Nirav Modi

Who Pays for These Financial Frauds?

Everyone has the footage from the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai imprinted on their mind – Ajmal Kasab strutting around CST station with an automatic weapon, bodies strewn all around. One of the most iconic buildings in Mumbai, the Taj Mahal Hotel, up in flames. Quite similarly, terrifying were the visuals of the earthquake that struck Bhuj in 2001 and the floods that ravaged Uttarakhand in 2013. Physical property in absolute shreds, distress and pain on people’s faces, their livelihood shattered.
After every such instance of mass mayhem, there are committees set up to look into the matter, questions raised over disaster management. We have Arnab Goswami shouting at the top of his voice for two weeks; international and diplomatic pressure is mounted if it’s a conflict that extends beyond our borders. After all, we can relate to what it is like to be in such a situation.
Injury, destruction, violence, trauma, blood, misery, pain, and death are emotions we all relate to at a very personal and humane level. You can see the calamity, and because you can see it, you can feel the pain. One can objectively determine the number of people who suffer, the extent of the suffering, and how their lives change overnight.
A financial crime is very different. It’s almost a victimless crime. You don’t see the damage, you don’t feel the pain even though it is an event that could potentially destabilise the economic system and the global market. After all, only a few numbers have been wiped off from some computer or a database somewhere in Dubai, haven’t they? “How bad can it be? It has not affected my life in any way. I’m sure we can trace the money trail, catch the crooks, put them behind bars, and it solves the problem.” That’s how punishment works, we learnt it in school. Well, not quite.
Who then pays for financial frauds?
On the exterior, it seems that a few individuals managed to scam their companies or banks of huge volumes of money. Surely, it must be the banks and companies who are losing the money? Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we now live in a world that is truly connected (in the way that Nokia dreamed of) and nothing has effects in isolation. When a company goes down, people who invested their money in that company go down with it. But, wait for it, sadly, there’s more.
When banks keep on accumulating bad loans, eventually governments have to kick in and bail them out. Why can’t banks just fail and fall down? We seem to be doing it with farmers all the time. It’s because everyone has money deposited in banks – the rich, the middle class, the poor; the young and the old. Many deposit their life’s savings in those tiny bank lockers. And for them, such a loss would be humongous. And so, banks are treated with kid gloves, a lot like millennials in school: They are not allowed to fail. Often governments show up at the last minute like Bruce Wayne with arrogant confidence and a huge suitcase stuffed with cash.
Where does government get the money from? Yes, the tax money that you and I pay. The ₹29 GST that you paid on the latte at Starbucks so that the government could use it to build a metro station, is actually used by it to bail out a bank because some asshole at Morgan Stanley scammed the system and is now partying in the Caribbean Islands in his million-dollar home. You paid the government, the government paid the bank, he took the money from the bank. So in essence, you paid your hard-earned money for his party. Not only does your money facilitate someone’s greed, it gets diverted from the function it is supposed to serve – development.
I hate to say it, but there’s more. Economic disasters have knock-on effects that can last years, and sometimes decades. The 2008 financial crisis cost the US taxpayer $700 billion (take two minutes to process that number and count the digits), and while the crisis originated in and was funded by America, the entire world paid for it, and in more than just monetary terms. Barack Obama’s hair turned grey, trying to overturn the situation he inherited.
When banks become weaker, their lending is affected. When banks don’t lend enough money to businesses, growth of corporations deteriorates; they can’t build new factories and take up expansive projects. When corporations aren’t growing, they start firing people. When people don’t have jobs, you see a spike in the unemployment rate. When the unemployment rate rises, one sees an increase in crime and other social problems. When crime increases, people pay with life.
Add a layer of globalisation to it, and you see how catastrophic the situation becomes. If a bank isn’t lending to Reliance in India, it would affect how much money will flow into their foreign operations in Africa. When people start making less money and get fired in factories in Africa, it affects the employment rate and financial stability of those countries. Scale up the situation to every company and every country in the world, and you realise the magnanimity of it all.
One may not be able to exactly pinpoint the number deaths or the period of tragedy, but there’s very little debate on the fact that it affects everyone, and has disastrous consequences when things go out of hand. To add insult to injury, the law works quite differently for powerful people than it does with the rest of us. Men in the middle of these financial storms (yes, they’re invariably all men) mostly tend to walk away untouched, because they have huge political clout and influence. We’ve seen that in India time and again, over decades. When poor farmers default on loans, it’s a crime. When rich millionaires do it, it’s called “negotiating the terms of payment”.
It has far often been the case that regulators and auditors, who are meant to stop the party, were also in on the frauds, dancing to the music, so they could make a few million as well. All of it at the cost of your and my tax money. While physical harm and impact of violence is instant, the effects of financial fraud are long term. To quote Miranda Tate from The Dark Knight Rises, “You see, it’s the slow knife, the knife that takes it’s time, the knife that waits years without forgetting, then slips quietly between the bones, that’s the knife that cuts deepest.”

SSC Students, the Pyjama Chaaps of the School Hierarchy System

“Did you study in the ICSE board,” a colleague once asked me while we were engaged in conversation for half an hour and fast running out of small talk. “No no, SSC board,” I replied back softly, with mild resignation. “Oh, your English is pretty good. I thought you must be from the ICSE board,” he said, with that arrogant confidence I had become too familiar with.  
The various boards that constitute the educational system in India are like the caste system. IB board students are the Brahmins. ICSE and CBSE students are Kshatriyas and Vaishyas respectively, and we State board students are treated like the lowest rung in the social hierarchy. Students from other boards look down upon us, the same way the internet looks down upon netizens who typ lik dis. SSC board students become Monisha Sarabhais to the posh and sophisticated Maya Sarabhais of the country. Our emotions were aptly captured by Shilpa Shukla in Chak De India when she asked Shah Rukh Khan, “Aisa kya hai usme, jo mujh mein nahi hai?”
Some people are born with an inferiority complex, some acquire it. And some have an inferiority complex thrust upon them. You see, children don’t give a fuck about your diction, syllabus, or your clothes – all they ever want to know is whether you have cream biscuits in your tiffin box. We didn’t even know what ICSE, CBSE, and IB was all about because everyone you knew in your little world was studying the same subjects as you. Children are innocent, they don’t distinguish people on the basis of intellect or language; they mock kids for being fat or thin, stupid or clumsy.
But as we grew into teenagers, murmurs about these kids who belonged to a different breed started to do the rounds. The things we were told about them almost made us think of them as mythical creatures. We were told these kids went to schools that boasted of huge grounds and swimming pools. When the hell did schools start coming with swimming pools? We SSC folks didn’t even have a decent computer lab. We were told they would have overnight picnics outside the city. We were taken to a garden in the next ’burb. We were told they had subjects like French and German. We were struggling with the Marathi barakhadi. We were told they were studying literature while we were still giggling over sex education diagrams in the Science-II textbook.
Everything about the other boards seemed better, even their books. Yes, the ICSE/CBSE books were frighteningly thicker, but they had colourful pictures. Our books… they were just plain black and white printed in the world’s lousiest font.
Their uniforms were smart, their shoes were perfectly polished. Our uniforms were shoddy, our shoes dusty. When they spoke in English, it seemed like they had been blessed by the Queen herself. We, we spoke, mostly in Bambaiyya Hindi.
They had hobbies – they rode horses and solved sudoku. We had hobbies too, they were lagori and saakli. They were veer bahadur Rajput boys, we were Model ke pyjama chaaps.     
If you had friends who attended ICSE or CBSE schools, you were doomed. If they started discussing As You Like It, it was best to keep mum and sneak away from that conversation. Because while they were studying Shakespeare, you were busy watching Sridevi movies.
ICSE students had weekly tests and seemed to be studying all the time. They never came to play in the building and help puncture everyone’s cycles just for a laugh. When the results came out, everyone you knew had managed to score over 90 per cent in their board exams. Were they superhumans? Not quite, as you later found out that scoring 90 per cent was a bit like delivering a TED Talk – every third person was suddenly doing it.
As school got over, the impossible forces met the immovable objects as students from all boards got together in junior college. It was the first taste of the brazen educational classism that state board students had to confront. During introductions, when you let your classmates know that you were from the SSC board, they wouldn’t showcase it openly but you could sense the dismissive undercurrent in their reaction, the subtext of which was “fucking losers”.
It wasn’t just some kids from the ICSE board hating on us poor souls from the SSC board; the dynamic was a lot more complex than that. Junior college also had a niche brand of students from the IB board, who would not only look down upon us, but also the ICSE and CBSE board kids. That was quite heartening, to be honest. The initial grudge, however, soon disappeared as people bonded over the timeline of their course, and everyone indulged in subtle jabs every now and then, but playfully.
One would think your educational board wouldn’t matter as you enter corporate life. And for the most part, it has no consequence, apart from the dreaded reaction you get when you tell someone you studied at the SSC board and they go…