Sunday, September 30, 2018

Designing Enterprise Chatbots - Dear Enterprise chatbot: what is our CEO’s annual salary?

This morning, my brokerage sent me a survey asking me about their new Chatbot Ted (or was it Suzy?). The survey was simple enough. The 5-6 questions asked me if I used other chatbots and virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, etc. It also touched on security concerns I had about sharing personal details with a the brokerage's Bot.

The past year has seen tremendous advances in chatbots integrated with machine learning, cognitive computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques. The bots are moving from quirky, esoteric tech tools that amuse us to serious business productivity tools that enhance the UI/UX design and usability of systems.

Organizations are evaluating bots as the front-line of customer service to address routine queries before (expensive) humans are engaged. Most major banks, brokerage houses, Airlines and eCommerce companies have rolled out cutely named Bots and virtual assistants that pop up when we try to engage with their portals. Many of these bots are being designed to take on basic human interactions like the recent demo of ‘AI Assistant’ by Google's Sundar Pichai that went viral.



In the demo, Google showed off its Assistant having a human-like conversation with folks at a hair salon and a small restaurant. The rather simple use-case also highlights the complexity of human communications, even for seemingly mundane tasks like making reservations that we take for granted while dealing with other humans, even those who have different sounding accents. Enterprise Chatbots that blur the line between human and system interactions, are also starting to appear in the corporate world.

Motivated by such viral videos, some CxOs, are asking their internal Business-technology teams to evaluate Bots for their internal users. Typical corporate Use-Cases include service help-desk functions for IT, HR, payroll and other shared services. Incidentally, these are also areas where organizations have been attempting to minimize manual interactions by enabling employee self-service techniques including searchable databases, FAQs, personalized portals and internal social-networking.

Technologies to power chatbots include commercial and open source tools that enable Machine Learning (ML) algorithms and natural language understanding to learn appropriate answers to user queries over time. While enabling and integrating chatbot tools in a corporate landscape can take some time and effort, training the Bot to learn the corporate context may require a lot more effort that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Hi HR-Bot, what is our CEO’s annual salary?


Design and training an enterprise chatbot requires functional context and access to enterprise data; data that may exist in silos. An FAQ of typical queries to the sales help-desk may include queries about monthly targets, details of product catalog, positioning and even sales data for the prior months. Such data may be business sensitive, and restricted even within the teams. For example, the sales team in the mid-west may not want their sales numbers exposed to other account teams, leave alone published to rest of the organization without aggregation or masking.

The design for an enterprise chatbot may also have to restrict information based on roles of the person querying. It should recognize that the senior executive asking if “margins of ACME account have improved since last month?” is authorized to review such information.

An account management team I once worked with was paranoid about the queries in a FAQs that could expose 'salary ranges' for some roles. Teams like that will certainly not appreciate queries to a Bot that ask "what’s our CEO’s salary?" Never mind the fact that most of us can just google the information from public sources; and a well designed bot enabled by machine-learning will eventually learn to search for that information on the internet.

The design of a machine-learning enterprise Chatbot also needs to guide (read: control) it to stay in the context of its enterprise domain. Many of us also continue to learn from experiments in the social media; like Microsoft’s ‘innocent’ chatbot, Tay that was ‘corrupted’ by Twitter and digirati in less than 24-hours.

Advances in AI, ML and NLP are pushing the envelope, and promising productivity gains by enabling self-service. A well-designed Chatbot, enabled in a specific functional context – like an IT, Claims or Benefits service desk – can aid productivity and also employee engagement while minimizing manual effort in responding to queries. However, given the current challenges in human interactions with systems, chatbots from Banks, brokerages and eCommerce companies are not being designed to be truly Machine Learning tools. At least not yet. While they respond cutely to routine questions, they don’t really ‘learn’ from queries posted by random users on the web.

Bottomline:  While there is a lot of promise that cool enterprise Chatbots hold, wider adoption in large organizations will also have to go hand-in-hand with organizational design.




Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted on my linkedin blog

Friday, September 14, 2018

Enterprise Architecture career Q&A : What skills to learn?

I came across an interesting question

"How do I change my career from a software developer to an enterprise architect. What skills I should learn?"


My response follows:

This is an interesting question though a lot will depend on your interests and background.
A “software developer” is a very broad term and can range from a core Java/Web developer to include folks configuring and customizing COTS products like SFDC or Oracle Fusion.
There is no indication of the business domain or industry you come from so I will assume you have a basic degree in IS or IT and have a few years of software development experience as a Java or .NET developer.
If you have identified an opening within the EA group in your organization, you will have to evaluate an your understanding of basic EA concepts; for example TOGAF’s ADM (link)


As a software developer you may be aware of some aspects of Information Systems and Technology Architecture, primarily by developing and deploying code to meet business requirements. As an Enterprise Architect, you will have to broaden your horizon to other BDAT dimensions too. Some of it can be done by attending training sessions on EA topics. You should also seek mentoring from EA’s in your organizations or your network.

Note: This is a rather short answer to a question that requires a lot more context about your background and long term goals. My response to similar questions on my blog - How important is it for an Enterprise Architect to have business domain knowledge?

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Asymmetric information on jobs and Hiring on LinkedIn: and how to stay ahead

A while ago, I updated my Linkedin profile to indicate I had relocated and taken on a new opportunity. A few in my network noticed and messaged me. Nothing new here. People switch jobs all the time. However, a few also noticed that I had relocated back to Bangalore, the ‘Silicon Valley of Asia,’ and were curious especially about my experiences in exploring opportunities here. Rather than respond individually, I thought I would blog this piece about my observations.

My relocation was prompted by a personal need, to be around to support my aging parents. With the safety net of a job with a multinational, I initially tried commuting between my home in North Carolina and Bengaluru. However, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a practical option and I couldn’t plan to ‘work remotely’ in perpetuity.

I began to explore local opportunities in the market, and leveraged this platform, LinkedIn extensively. Most headhunters will tell you, networking and social media are the primary source of leads and opportunities so I began to revive some of my dormant social media contacts, especially people I had worked with in the past.

Networking has to be contextual, which means understanding the market to have a focused engagement.

The Market and Job Segments  


The IT Enabled Services (ITES) industry has transformed in the decade since I had been here. According to NASSCOM, the Indian trade association, the IT sector generates revenues of US$160 billion, and employs over 3.1 million people. The ITES also experiences an attrition of over 20 %, which means nearly a million people are switching jobs every year. The trend is similar across the spectrum of the industry – software companies, software services firms and also captive shared services organizations. All this makes for an extremely vibrant marketplace by any account.

Most of the tech jobs are concentrated in tech belts in three or four major metros in India, and the ITES industry continues to be bottom-heavy. Although the industry continues to mature, the jobs seem to fall into distinct categories in a pyramid.


  • Hands on roles – These hands-on folks develop code, configure service and test and debug services. Those with 1 to 5 years experience are the most in demand.
  • Tech-Leads and Mangers – Generally people with 5-10 years of experience. They gather and validate requirements, manage and guide teams of hands-on developers
  • People Mangers – These professionals, with 10-15 years of experience, are generally at the top of the pyramid either as client facing leaders or delivery managers who may manage several teams. Their primary focus is on managing ‘resources’ – people and other resources needed by their teams
  • Others – This category is broad and open ended. It includes line-of-business managers who own P&L and sometimes experienced consultants



Recruiters and hiring managers are rather rigid when it comes to this ‘years and roles’ mapping. A person with 10 or 15 years’ experience is not expected to be hands-on. Therefore, a seasoned programmer or developer will find it hard to sell herself with a resume showing 15 years’ hands-on development experience. Each category in the pyramid has a distinct pay-package associated, and there is a perception that over-qualified candidates may not be tenured or stick around, even if they are willing to accept a lower package.  Recruiters automatically screen out such profiles as ‘over qualified’ citing cost constraints and tenure risks.

After a brief review of the market and vetting my understanding with a few people in my network, I began leveraging LinkedIn in my search. After all, there are anecdotal accounts to indicate that social media, especially LinkedIn is the primary networking tool used by candidates and hiring managers alike.

How does LinkedIn connect candidates with opportunities?


There are hundreds of thousands of ITES professionals on LinkedIn; some more active than others. Not surprisingly, there are different techniques candidates and hiring managers use while connecting with each other across the market and job segments.

Managers posting opportunities directly: During my search, I noticed that scores of hiring managers directly posting opportunities on LinkedIn. The reach of such posts can be amplified beyond one’s network when peers ‘like,’ and ‘share’ such posts. Such direct engagement can connect you instantly with hiring manager posting the request, especially if you have the skills and experience in the topic of interest. 

Such posts may have some limitations too. When a senior-executive with a social network of similar peers posts for a junior hands-on role, job-seekers at the bottom of the pyramid who are not connected to the said manager may not come across that post. Lost in the general cacophony – Posts announcing opportunities may get lost in the barrage of notifications in one’s landing page. A few likes that these posts generate have to compete for eyeballs against other self-serving posts. For example, ‘Yay, Here I am standing in a queue to get an autographed copy of Warren Buffet’ will generate dozens of likes, shares and comments; more than a simple “update on hiring”


Announcing ‘seeking an interesting opportunity' – Many candidates update their LinkedIn headline to indicate that they are actively seeking new opportunities. Recruitment consultants are divided on this approach. On one hand, a person who is active in LinkedIn groups whose profiles indicates they are also available may interest hiring managers or recruiters. On the other hand, recruiters are generally more interested in those who are already employed and less excited about those in between jobs.

Updating Career Interests – The ‘Career Interests’ section on Linkedin is an effective tool to announce one’s career interests. Updating that section is an effective but stealthy way for candidates to appear in searches without explicitly announcing, “I’m available”

Be active in the medium – Posting Pulse blogs, engaging with others on LinkedIn groups and answering queries on topics will get your profile noticed. You should select the mode of communication like a Pulse Blog based on your interests. For instance, not everybody has the time or inclination to post lengthy Pulse Blogs. Such engagement should also focus on specific groups like that of Salesforce, RPA, Mainframes or areas. If change in work location or geography is what you want, engage in forums where target employers and recruiters are likely to find you. Intelligent and articulate responses to queries on such forums will help you showcase your command over the topic while helping peers.

Search and Apply – LinkedIn is also turning out to be a vibrant job search engine with hundreds of thousands of new jobs posted every day. Recruiters across industry segments and geographies are actively engaged in the job portal. Many also leverage the one-click apply feature that allows candidates to automatically import from their LinkedIn profile to the employer’s Applicant Tracking Systems.

For some of us, networking on social media platforms like Linkedin can become second nature. However, navigating a platform that attracts millions of active users like you and me, may sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Some people may find it hard to get their profiles to stand out.



The creative few may find it refreshing to go off the grid: like the Bangalore techie who recently became an internet sensation by riding a horse in busy traffic on his last day at work.

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from my LinkedIn Pulse

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Rolling out Robotics, Automation and RPA? Prepare for the initial heavy-lifting!

I recently posted a couple of requests on my LinkedIn feed looking for people with expertise in Robotic Process Automation (#RPA link). I got a few good leads and some of my peers reached out asking what I was doing in this space. I figured it was a topic for a Pulse article, building on the theme of Digital Strategy Execution that I had blogged about earlier (link).

Automation, especially emerging tools enabled by RPA is getting a lot of attention among technology and business executives.

The Use Cases for automation using RPA tools are certainly compelling. Most organizations are likely to encounter gaps in existing processes that evolve over time. Many require users to perform repeated tasks like entering data from printed document or validating data in one system against other systems. RPA tools can help automate mundane, repetitive tasks. Putting together a business case to invest in tools and resources sounds compelling. However, the heavy lifting begins after the business buys into the promise of RPA. 

Case in Point


As an Enterprise Architect responsible for Corporate Functions, I get involved in technology transformations and reviewing new tools and technologies. The finance business unit was reviewing quick-win automation techniques while planning for a major system re-engineering.

The group receives thousands of invoices from vendors and suppliers across the globe. While they had integrated the invoice processing with a few large vendors, the long tail still involves thousands of invoices coming in as faxes and emails with attachments. The business engaged an outsourcer whose team used a semi-manual approach to process the invoices. They take inputs from the mails and reconcile the invoices against the original Purchase Order in the source system, after which the invoices are cleared for processing and payment in another financial system. The process has many variations; for example, some of the invoices are for single items while a large number have multiple line-items.

The long-term roadmap involves re-engineering the process to automate the integrations and workflow, which is likely to take more than a year. In the meantime, the team wants to reduce the manual processing that is fraught with errors.

This jumps out as a textbook-case for automation using RPA Robots (Bots); after a quick review, the business sponsors signed off on automation. RPA analysts were engaged to review the current steps, and began to work with functional SMEs to plan for automation.

And then the wait began; and some began to wonder why.

The reason was obvious. This was the first time the business unit was rolling out an RPA solution. Before the initial euphoria died down, we began reviewing the design to enable the foundational elements and infrastructure.

The details of implementing robotics lie beneath the iceberg


Our experience thus far has been in line with the data quoted in this PWC report (link), that gives a dose of reality. The report highlights how “The enterprises do not always feel that they have received sufficient information about how long time it actually takes to create just the right foundation.”



While the Business Analysts and RPA developers review the process to automate, RPA Architects and design teams need to review some of the guiding principles. Typical questions that need to be addressed include:


  • Procuring tools – How long does your procurement team take while approving a new vendor solution? If you happen to be in a large enterprise, you will have to work through your ‘procurement process’ before you acquire the first licensed copy of the chosen tool (UIPath, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere or others) 
  • IT Governance - Does your IS policy allows system accounts for non-human users? What is the process to enable application specific access for the Bot accounts? A Bot will require a network account, user-id, application and other credentials. The first time you introduce Bot accounts in your landscape, you will have to review the policies that govern accounts used by such non-humans. 
  • Business policies – An invoice processed for payment triggered by a Bot will require it to login into the Financial system. The Bot will need credentials similar to a human triggering invoice-processing. Does your corporate compliance policy allow for non-human accounts to login and process transactions on your financial (or HR, or Legal) systems? Do you have the same level of tractability for activities performed by Bot-accounts? Do you plan to onboard and offboard Bot accounts periodically? 
  • Basic SDLC – How do you plan to test your Bots? Do you have the systems, environments and test data to validate the Bots? Most business users at enterprises require new systems and processes to be rigorously tested before it goes live. Business stakeholders will expect the same rigor in validating the operations of a Bot before you let them loose in your landscape. 
  • Managing Bots – Who is going to operate and monitor the activities of the Bots? Robots can be scheduled to run periodically or triggered by events. However, just like other systems, they will periodically fail or generate exceptions. You will need to extend the support and service model to the operations of Bots.

Some of these questions may sound trivial, and may be a non-issue in smaller organizations or startups. However, stakeholders in larger organizations may not articulate such Non Functional Requirements (NFRs) but will nevertheless expect attention to detail when it comes Bots that operate with live financial, customer, employee or other corporate data.

Bottomline: Before the first time you decide to roll-out production grade RPA solutions that begin to process your enterprise’s live financial, accounting or procurement data, you need to analyze and agree on the foundation elements of automation.
________________________________________
Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your experiences with AI, Automation and Bots.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

#BookReview Story of heroic women who (thankfully) downplay their feminism

During my rather long commutes, I try to drown out the cacophony of traffic by listening to audio-books. I recently downloaded an audio copy of Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Nightingale’ and finished the book during my commute in a couple of weeks.





My review from Amazon follows:



Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Nightingale’ is a bestseller for obvious reasons: strong characters who draw you in while the author weaves an interesting plot. Set in France, during the span of over two years during World War II, this is a story of two women. However, it is not just a story of strong, heroic women but the resilience of the human spirit.

Hannah’s skillfully develops the characters while keeping the story engaging and readable.

The story revolves around the lives of two sisters Viann and Isabelle who come to grips with the horrors of war in their own way. The younger sister Isabelle has moved back to their father in Paris while Viann is content with life in the French countryside. The vagaries of war throw unique changes at both sisters who facing terrifying situations and respond in their unique ways.

Spoiler alert: The ending of this saga is a bit clichéd but satisfying.

This book kept me engaged during my long commute during the week, and is likely to keep you engaged as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The digital divide: the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid ?

A interesting interview with Alana Semuels in marketplace podcast last week made me reflect on the digital divide, and on those at the bottom of the digital pyramid (apologies CK Prahalad). Ref: Your Amazon deliveries don't just magically appear at your door. The interview and Semuels’ detailed account of experiences as an Amazon Flex driver in The Atlantic (link) made for an interesting read. She recounts
My tech-economy experience was far less lucrative. In total, I drove about 40 miles (not counting the 26 miles I had to drive between the warehouse and my apartment). I was paid $70, but had $20 in expenses, based on the IRS mileage standards.

Semuels’ observations are significant since nearly $1 out of every $2 spent online in the US is going to Amazon (link).

Halfway across the globe in the Silicon-Valley of the East, life seems to be no different for those at the bottom of the digital pyramid. Motorists in Bengalurue are learning to avoid the ‘delivery boys’ in bikes with heavily laden bags crisscrossing gridlocked traffic

Photo from Author's smartphone

The e-commerce delivery-boys (yes, it is mostly guys who are into delivery) earn a minimum wage – about $200 to $300 per month, while accounting for other expenses.



 In the article, Alana Semuels highlights

All my frustration really hit when I went to the second office building on Market Street, home to a few big tech companies. One of them took up multiple floors, smelled strongly of pizza, and had dog leashes and kibble near the front door. Young workers milled around with laptops and lattes, talking about weekend plans. They were benefiting from the technology boom, sharing in the prosperity that comes with a company’s rapid growth. Technology was making their jobs better—they worked in offices that provided free food and drinks, and they received good salaries, benefits, and stock options. They could click a button and use Amazon to get whatever they wanted delivered to their offices—I brought 16 packages for 13 people to one office; one was so light I was sure it was a pack of gum, another felt like a bug-spray container

The e-commerce delivery-boys in India and China who are delivering packages to their tech-savvy brethren higher in the digital pyramid are bound to be echoing a similar sentiment.

There is perhaps a silver lining here as, Semuels writeup also acknowledges:

People are worried that automation is going to create a “job apocalypse,” but there will likely be thousands more driving and delivery jobs in upcoming years..... “We’re going to take the billion hours Americans spend driving to stores and taking things off shelves, and we’re going to turn it into jobs” 

Bottomline: The digital economy has defined invisible lines separating those at the top and bottom of the pyramid. However, such delivery jobs in developing economies like China and India are an opportunity for young, semi-educated youngsters to earn a living. Without such opportunities, scores of them might end up unemployed or remain under-employed.

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, or Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation or share your favorite 'trend to watch' | Reposted from linkedIn Pulse blog | Also a link to an earlier blog on the topic: Digitization: Solutions to physical-world problems?!

Friday, June 1, 2018

After death ceremonies costs –Brahmin Iyer (Bangalore circa 2018)

Here is a post that touches on a sensitive topic : Rituals (and Cost) of after-death Brahmin’s rituals

I neither am an extremely staunch follower of Vedic traditions nor am I an agnostic or an atheist. Perhaps the closest term I can use to define myself is a ‘karma yogi.’ My parents, on the other hand, are more traditional, believing a bit on scriptures and the need to follow some aspects of the tradition.
At the time of my dad’s passing, I realized that I was expected to plan for the funeral and after-death ceremonies in accordance with the (implicit) wishes of the departed. 

The reason I say implicit is because I had been unable to have a candid conversation on ‘planning’ for my father’s passing although it was imminent for a while. My situation is not unusual since most Indian families and caregivers are probably going to be in the same boat. They are expected to plan for ceremonies immediately after death, at very sensitive time when families and loved ones are emotionally vulnerable. 

The decisions and ceremonies are as much as for those surviving, as they are to remember and eulogize the departed. Haggling or ‘negotiating’ over the elaborate nature of ceremonies with rest of the family and the priests can be a delicate matter. One wrong remark can lead to a barrage of emotional responses from others and one risks sounding callous or insensitive.


The reason for this post is two fold – to share my experiences with those interested, also give some tips that will be useful if needed.

The funeral rituals and ceremonies performed after death of a relative vary across cultures and religions across the globe. Even for a religious sect – like South Indian Brahmin community that I belong to – the ceremonies and details vary widely.

A few days after week dad’s funeral in May 2018, I began reviewing process of ceremonies that Hindu Brahmins engage in. These ceremonies consist of a detailed series starting from the 3rd day or the 9th day. If started from the 9th day as I did, it combines the ones from the previous days.

I talked to our family priest – who was also my dad’s confidant, Ganapadigal in Malleshwaram, Bengalure - about the ‘process.’ We also touched on the costs. He explained a few details of the rituals that “must” follow be followed.  He explained that Brahmin priests like him had made the process convenient for working professional like me; and most of the arrangements would be made at the Vedic Dharma Samaj in Malleshwaram.

Vedika Dharma Samaj is located at 16th Cross in Malleshwaram (next to Chowdiah Hall main entrance). The venue is a dedicated location for religious and cultural needs of the Hindu community; primarily for such after-death and other annual ceremonies.

Image result for Vaidika Dharma Samaj
Googled image

The priest briefly explained the nature of the ceremonies that my wife and I would participate until the 13th day. He also explained a bit about the series of ceremonies that would follow, and the days on which I would have to get lunch catered  for our family and visitors etc. Note to self: many of these ceremonies and catering of food from outside is perhaps designed to give some respite to the women and others at home who traditionally fret over culinary arrangements.

The priest said that the costs range from 75 thousand to 175 thousand (1.75 lakh) Rupees. He explained that if the budget were at the lower end, it would only cover cost of the room rentals and the bare essentials. The higher slab rates were to provide for additional dakshina (charity) for the Brahmins. I thought about it and called him back and confirmed that  I’d prefer to spend around 1 lakhs, and requested him to proceed with the arrangements.

In case you are wondering, in 2018, it costs about 7-8,000 rupees for catering a traditional multi-course Brahmin feast for a dozen people.

A summary of ceremonies follows

9th day ceremony


My wife and I reached the venue around 8.30 am, and asked for our priest, and we were told to wait. There were a lot of rooms in the two-story building, and the manager explained that a room (5F on 1st floor) had been dedicated for our ceremonies for the next few days. The room was rather small (about 8 feet by 10 feet) and some basic arrangements were already in place. On the floor were laid out
  • A Havan area (homa kunda) with bricks laid in the middle of the room
  • A pot of cooked rice lay in a corner
  • A bucket of water with some sand alongside was kept in the middle, and another bucket with sand was kept under a canopy of coconut leaves at the other end of the room
  • The vedic samaj folks had also arranged other samagri (items) like ghee, some milk, curd and a tray of till (sesame seeds), wheat rice etc
  • I took a kalas (pot) and wore a veshti
Our priest Keerti, deputed by the ganapadi (head-priest), came in a few minutes and the ceremony commenced. The ceremony revolved around rice pindams ‘depicting’ the departed soul. A few stones were placed in the bucket filled with sand. All this was followed by chanting of Sanskrit mantras.

At the end of the ceremony, the priest Keerti escorted us downstairs with a bundle of 10 rupee notes and a bag of rice. A row of Brahmins suddenly congregated around us and I was asked to donate ‘two hands’ (a tumbler full ) of rice and a couple of raw bananas along with a 10 rupee note.

I casually asked keerti if the folks really used the two tumblers of rice and he said in earnestness, “sure, the rice is edible when cooked. And these brahmins need it!”

After that we packed up with the balls of cooked-rice (pindam) and drove by a nearby pond (Sankey Tank) where we dropped the pindams to dissolve in a tank of water nearby that is meant for such offerings.

10th day ceremony

The 10th day ceremony is rather more elaborate that the previous days’. I was told that it signifies the departed soul finally leaving the middle-loka to the ‘other world’. It consists of a few themes
  • Preparing more pindam and taking the stones out of the bucket of sand (left the previous day)
  • Now the ‘new body’ of the preta is formed out of the pindam and stones and “It suffers from terrible hunger.”
  • Prabhuta bali ( bali in abundance ) –  an offering of food - idli, vada, dosa etc to the departed
  • There is a Havan at the end
  • After a ritual purification, the widow (my mother) was offering of new sarees by her brothers
The ceremony in many parts took about 2 hours (starting at about 9.30 to 11.15) after which the invited guests came home for a ‘feast’ arranged by a caterer.  The multi-course feast had been catered in and the caterers had been instructed on a menu suggested by my aunt and others.

11th day ceremony

Only I was required for the 11th day ceremony that began at 9.40AM with a homam. About 7 Brahmins including Keerti were lined up around the room before Ganapadigal arrived.

The ceremony consisted of Homam, generating a lot of smoke and fire – a couple of logs of Neem tree and a lot of coconut husks were placed at the center. A bit of camphor was lit using the long spatula and dropped in the center of the logs that lit the dry husks first. I had to endure the fumes and smoke while the chanting of mantras continued.

The seven Brahmins in attendance were given a dakhina (donation) of about 650 rupees each. At the end of the homam, 1 brahmin had to be fed a meal.

The Vedika samaj folks had arranged the multi-course meal, and after the homam, the Brahmin sat to eat while I watched and ritually ‘served’ him. I was asked to chant a few mantras while he began to eat. The food consisted of a few varieties of cooked vegetables, paisam, with rice and ghee.  After he finished, the Brahmin came back to the room with homam, accepted his dakshina and left.

12th Day ceremony

Suja, my wife and I reached Vedika samaj around 9.30 and the Ganapadi was already ready with the homa material etc.

The homam continued along with chanting of mantras during which time, Suja was asked to prepare 9 pindams of cooked-rice balls. These were laid out in a plantain leaf depicting the departed. An elongated pindam was also kept in the side, depicting his ‘body’

During the chanting of mantras, I was asked about the names of our ancestors from father’s side – grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather. This was to ensure that my father joined his lineage in the after-world.

After the havan, three Brahmins had been summoned and I was asked to wash their feet and ‘invite’ them for lunch. The lunch, like the previous day’s was a platter of a few curries, kootu and helping of rice. They eat the food with some kesri that Suja had prepared from home.

After they finished their lunch, the three brahmins came and were offered dakshina. After the brahmin’s feast, there was more chanting of mantras.

In the meantime, the Ganapadi had prepared ‘gift hamper’ with an assortment of gift items symbolizing things the departed would need in after life. About 15-20 brahmins were summoned to the door of the room 5H. They stood by while Ganapadi took out the wide assortment of r items – a brass Bell, a pair of slippers, veshtis, an umbrella, a sloka book, paper fan, stainless steel plates, cups and other utensils. The amount of dakshina ranging from 500 to 10 Rupees was offered along with the gift items to the Brahmins. Most of them went away happy.

Towards the end of the of the ceremony, we collected the pindams again for the day and dropped them at Sankey tank on the way home.

13th Day ceremony and ‘purification’ - at home

The 13th day ceremony essentially consists of a ‘purification’ havan at home, after which the family symbolically leaves the grief behind and moves forward with ‘shubh karyam’

The havan for this ceremony was arranged at home, not the Vedic Dharma Samaj. The Ganapadi came at about 8.30 am to setup things and we were ready by then. Three more priests joined him. The chanting of mantras continued and I tried to follow along by reciting.

Towards the end, I was escorted to the verandah where a kalas of water used for the havan was poured on my head. That mug of cold water had a rather chilling effect on me; in more ways than one.
I changed over the veshti and came back to sit near the havan. After the ceremony concluded, I offered the dakshina – the 100,000 rupees – that we had agreed on earlier.

Catering had been arranged for about 12 people. The feast consisted of a variety of dishes including sambar, rasam, beans curry, paruppu-uasli, Mango thokku, curd. Paysam (kheer), vada, papad with a generous helping of rice. In addition, a couple of paruppu cones (boondi cones) were ordered and offered to guests as ‘tamboolam.’


Footnote:
#1 I have chronicled my personal experiences here and figured it will be useful for those looking for some insights. There may be inaccuracies in my interpretation of terms or the rituals, which you may verify from other sources. Costs are indicative and will vary based on your budget and inclination to perform the rituals.
#2. The amount quoted is just based on my experience. I could afford the cost and effort of the rituals so I did; and I recognize that not everyone may be in the same position. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Raise your hand if you have worked with an empathetic manager !

Business writers, academics and consultants periodically talk about the role of empathy in managing teams. Management gurus draw evidence from data and research on business leaders succeeding by demonstrating empathy, compassion, and humility. The argument is rather straightforward: organizations and teams are made up of people; and people - even high performing individuals - continually struggle for a work-life-balance.

Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, begins the first chapter of his book “Hit Refresh” (my review) by exploring how his upbringing shaped some of his personal views on management. He briefly talks about empathy, and how the birth of his son Zain, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shaped his world-view.

Such candor from an accomplished tech-leader is refreshing, but is still rather rare. Most of us in the corporate world are motivated to downplay references to personal life and challenges or risk being seen as 'soft.' While the rare business leader like Nadella might be willing to talk about 'softer' aspects of management like empathy, the business world downplays it. Business operations, efficiencies and success criteria are measured in hard numbers and not by softer criteria.

Case-in-point: reflecting on a couple of instances

Years ago, I was managing a team of developers and engineers for a large project. One day, a young engineer, Raj*, came to me and said his father had passed away. He wanted to request vacation to leave immediately for his hometown. Raj had recently completed his programming-bootcamp training and had been assigned to my team. I called our HR business partner to check on the company's policies and benefits for 'bereavement leave,' and was surprised by the answer: “sorry, we don't have a bereavement leave policy.” On probing further she replied that it was not customary for Indian companies to offer such leave, and hence our management hadn't formulated such a policy (yet).

Raj hadn't accrued a lot of vacation time, and the 'official' response was to ask him to take an unpaid-leave. I knew the guy wasn't in a state of mind to bother about policies and was going to take such leave regardless. The performance of my team's goal was measured on the success of the project delivery and client feedback. And Raj's absence did not impact our timelines or deliverables; hence I did not feel the need to seek 'help' from senior management.

While the policy around leave was rigid, I knew managers had some leeway when it came to compensating time off against overtime , which I decided to extend to Raj. I continued to voice the issue of “bereavement leave policy” in internal forums in the company till it finally got institutionalized a few years later. No brownie points for sticking my neck out or an 'Atta boy' for showing some empathy.

Years later, I worked for a multinational that was undergoing transformation in light of an impending M&A. Teams were stretched, and busy working on a number of large 'strategic' programs – a number of ERPs were being consolidated while a sizable part of the portfolio was moving to the cloud. A senior member of our team in Europe, Jack*, had a severe bout of flu, that led to other complications including pneumonia. He was hospitalized for a few weeks and was advised bed-rest for a couple of months.

Jack reached out to the line-manager, offering to work-from-home or part-time for a couple of months while he recovered. The manager was under pressure to deliver on the ambitious goals that the CIO had committed to. He worked on a plan with the HR partner, and offered Jack a 'generous' severance to enable him to 'focus on his personal life.' He reasoned that he was showing empathy for a colleague dealing with personal issues in the way he was conditioned and motivated to do so. With that baggage shed, the manager was able to on-board an un-encumbered member and 'motivated' team to deliver on the promised goals; and some.

So, why is it hard to find empathetic managers?


There is a phrase from an interview with the business leader, Ratan Tata that jumped out when I was reflecting on this topic (link: The Economist). He is quoted saying

“I want to be able to go to bed at night and say that I haven't hurt anybody”

People and managers are inherently good intention-ed, and want to contribute and be valued. However, companies are not structured to recognize or reward such 'human' attributes. Business leaders across the corporate hierarchies are measured on their performance and targets that are generally aligned with 'corporate goals';


  • The targets for Public companies are measured quarter-by-quarter, and the (stock) market rewards or punishes them by pushing up or pulling down the stock price. Most companies reward their executives, and employees of a certain cadre, with long-term-incentives tied to stocks or stock options; and such incentives are easily tracked. 
  • Executives ensure that the line of sight to corporate goals – maximize shareholder value - is generally clear down the org-chart. They work with mid-level-managers and supervisors to define production, sales or other operational measures aligned with their targets  
This topic has been especially hard for me to write about though the concepts are rather straightforward, and one can easily find a lot of management literature, backed up by research. While thinking about the topic, I could easily see how some examples in the business world are really quid-pro-quo, masked as empathy:

  • Team-members bending backwards to source an expensive gift for the boss' silver-jubilee-anniversary 
  • The vendor offering a plush guest-house for you to recover from jet-lag after a cross-continent trip 
  • The manager prompting his team members to use all their vacation time at the end of year to get back refreshed (perhaps gently nudged by leaders who don't want folks to carry forward vacation on the books) 
  • The VP of a global team stating "none of the American members will work or take calls on the 4th of July," (a week before the CEO's photo-op with Mr. Trump in Davos)
Corporate goals and targets are generally unforgiving, and don't have much room for 'softer' measures. Not surprisingly, managers who stick their neck out by trying to practice softer aspects like empathy risk being seen as soft. Those who do, might fear they will lose out in the corporate-race against their 'go-getter' peers. 

Thanks for reading! Please click on Like, Share, Tweet and Comment below to continue this conversation | Reposted from LinkedIn pulse blog

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Enterprise Architecture 101: Keep your Architecture Repositories – KISS-S

Viewpoints on Architecture repositories are topics of perennial discussion in digital forums and communities (eg link). Such discussions are the tip of the iceberg, bubbling up some of the frustration over time and energies that Architecture and Design teams spend on evaluating and managing Architecture Repositories. The focus of discussions range from What information to capture and document, to How-to manage the repositories, and includes debates on tools, technologies and platforms to use.

Architecture frameworks like TOGAF have captured the first part of the question well, explaining the need for repositories to operate mature Architecture Capabilities at large enterprises. TOGAF references (link) describe
“An Architecture Repository that allows an enterprise to distinguish between different types of architectural assets that exist at different levels of abstraction in the organization. This Architecture Repository is one part of the wider Enterprise Repository, which provides the capability to link architectural assets to components of the Detailed Design, Deployment, and Service Management Repositories.”



Why don’t organizations just adapt Frameworks like TOGAF that are obviously well documented? Just a couple of reasons why:


  • While the documentation in TOGAF is rather extensive, it is also rather generic, and needs to be tailored to meet specific requirements of your organization. Like a Swiss-Army-knife, not all aspects of architectural information may be required or applicable for all organizations. 
  • Architecture documentation and processes don’t operate in isolation. They need to exist seamlessly with your enterprise's change management and governance processes. 

In an earlier write-up (link), I highlighted my experiences in establishing and running an Architecture Review Board (ARB). To succeed, the architecture governance had to be embedded with the existing processes, and ways of working.


The same holds true for Architecture Repositories too. Architecture and design teams in large organizations spend a lot of time and energy documenting the current and future state capabilities. The translation of such strategies and ideas into workable solutions - capability realization - is enabled by business funded projects and programs. Large programs also generate a tremendous amount of documentation to adhere to existing governance processes and project management and operational frameworks.  

It is fair to assume that large organizations will have extensive collaboration and team management tools and platforms including enterprise portals, wikis, blogs and even social media tools used by teams across the organization. Therefore, it is important to keep the design of any Architecture Repositories KISS-S. 

Architects should recognize the capabilities of existing organizational tools and platforms, and either extend them to include architectural repositories, or ensure that any additional tool integrates seamlessly with existing platforms. The additional S at the end of the common acronym KISS is to emphasize the 'S'eamless integration and ‘S’earchability of the artifacts in the repository. For example, if your organization uses a Sharepoint based intranet platform, you are better off designing a simple repository and workflow extending that platform. 

Those searching for "Design document for SFDC XYZ program" or "Solution Design template" should be easily discoverable using a simple search on your enterprise’s intranet without having to search for a member of your team who can help find that document. 

Bottomline: All your relevant non-confidential architecture references should be searchable across the enterprise and not 'guarded' behind a firewalled repository. Only then they will serve the purpose: to educate, inform and influence organizational design.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reflections on palliative care in India: a long goodbye

Those who read the papers regularly will notice two kinds of obituary messages. “Mrs. So-and-so passed away peacefully in his sleep. She was 82, and is survived by ….” or “Mr. ABC succumbed to Cancer after bravely battling it for over 6 months. He was 79 and is survived by....” If a detailed article is written after the passing of the latter, it may eulogize their life, and make a brief mention of “the brave battle with cancer” and that they were hospitalized for months. Such an article may or may not make a mention of the “brave battle” the family and caregivers undertake.

My dad has been bedridden at home for the past six months, requiring constant care and attention for his daily needs. While caregiving has certainly been at the forefront of my daily routine, it sometimes takes an outsider to notice the pace of decline. A couple of weeks ago, an uncle of mine stopped by to visit my ailing dad. He later took me aside and quietly sobbed, and remarked about the “unfairness” of life. He simply said “we are praying for his peaceful passing.”

To be fair, my dad has led a rather eventful and fruitful life, rising from humble beginnings before retiring as a proud Officer in the Indian Air Force. After retiring from service, my parents continued to live on their own and traveled to scores of temples across South India well into their seventies. This rather active retirement gradually came to a halt after we found out that my dad had stage-4 Prostate cancer, which had metastasized, but by itself was not debilitating. Only subsequently after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's that his movements gradually slowed. What started as a gradual tremor in the hands progressed to the rest of his limbs. In a span of the following year, a combination of these and old age eventually knocked him over.

About five months ago, my dad got feverish and had to be hospitalized. Turns out he had a mild stroke, after which he lost the use of his right arms and both legs.  After a battery of tests and reviews, a panel of doctors said they had exhausted available medical options and that “palliative care” was the next course of action. I was a bit surprised by this in-your-face advice, more because it was delivered matter-of-factly, without sugarcoating. When I asked for further clarification, the senior resident was just as cryptic “We are just medical professionals, not gods. Just pray for some peace moving forward, and continue to provide him comfort.”

Every few weeks, dad's condition seems to take a dip, making us scramble while we come to grips with the new reality. His slow, slurred speech has reduced to a few gurgles, and he spends most of the time motionless in a slumber. Feeding solids have given way to semi-solid gruel supplemented by baby food. Perhaps the only redeeming factor here is that he seems to be cognitive and responds in a low gurgle or squeeze of hands when spoken to.

[ Counting one's blessings: video of little Vijay with his grandpa ]

The Philosophy


The Hindu philosophy that I loosely follow talks about Karma : actions, and the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual influence the future. Even without a deeper  philosophical reflection, many of us recognize that caring for an elderly parent is a part of one's Karma; after all they were there to nurture and guide us when we were young and impressionable. Paying that 'debt' back is the least we can do. If an extended palliative care before passing is in an elder's 'Karma,' who are we to argue?

The Hindu philosophy also makes fundamental assumptions of Saṃsāra, the theory of rebirth and "cyclicality of all life, matter, existence." When the body dies, the Atma (soul) leaves the body. In a tacit acknowledgment of the finality of death, Hindus cremate the body since the soul doesn't come back in the same form. It does not require a philosophical grounding to acknowledge the obvious: all who are born, must eventually die. The philosophy and scriptures, are however intentionally vague about the 'process' of death and dying which will be unique to an individual.

Practicality


Even a generation or two ago, extended families in India lived under a roof, and caring for an elder, perhaps even palliative care was a non-issue. As urban Indians move towards 'modern' nuclear family structures, family-support for caregiving can be a trying experience, especially when it comes to extended palliative care. Those of us who can afford to, hire caregivers to assist with day-to-day needs, but even with such help, palliative care overwhelm the extended family.

Caring for a sick and infirm person takes a lot of emotional resilience, more so when the prognosis is a  terminal-end, and one is facing a downward slide that follows a textbook pattern (link). When a terminal patient suffers, caregivers and family suffer in equal measure. Caregivers may find it hard to sometimes suppress thoughts, of a peaceful and speedy end.

One sometimes reads of people in dire straits occasionally contemplating drastic actions by 'taking things into their hands,' although such thoughts and actions are unthinkable for most of us. A living will, and Euthanasia are things one reads about, though one generally does not encounter in real life.
A few weeks ago, social media was buzzing over an elderly couple's plea to the Indian President seeking permission for 'active euthanasia' (link). While that appeal made headlines. and will almost certainly be ignored by the President, it just highlights the reality that the couple are confronting as they grow older.

In most cases, the caregivers and families bottle up their emotions, and focus on the present and try to make the little time left with the loved one comfortable.

Dad with caregiver

It takes a village to care for an elder... but not all think alike


I sometimes reflect on my dad's inner strength to continue to bravely fight the fight, and the utter lack of self-pity that he has demonstrated. Of course, his resilience is reinforced by the resolve around him. My aging mother has taken her marriage vows “....in sickness and in health,....” quite literally; dedicating her time and energy to caring for him. Her initial prayers to 'get him back to normal' have been replaced by a more pragmatic prayers for continued peace and comfort.

Needless to say, not all families or even members of a family will react to these circumstances in the same way. For instance, my brother who lives thousands of miles away in England has been trying to stay updated on dad's condition. Although not in denial after a quick trip to visit dad, he harbors optimism. He perhaps believes that a miracle might just occur.

Our 8 year old, on the other hand, is a bit overwhelmed by the life-lesson unfolding in front of him. He has mostly been keeping his feelings to himself. The other day, he opened up a bit, and began telling Suja about his latent feelings for Thata (Grandpa). He said he was finding it really hard to go and greet Thata, "lying in his bedroom in this condition.” adding, “It is hard to see him like this. Even a few months ago, Thata used to ask about my school-day. Now he is only able to make some grunting sounds. I wish he were at least able to speak again.”

A redeeming factor in the gradual decline is that it has given us enough time to sit back, observe, reflect while we continue to provide the best care and comfort one can. The extended nuclear-family – mother, dad's caregiver, my wife and our little son - are involved in various aspects of the planning, logistics and care-giving. While dad goes through the gradual stages of withdrawing from the world, we continue to be around, although we continue with our daily life.

Paraphrasing an old adage; it still takes a village to care for an elder.

---------------

Related post : A review of cottage industry around ‘elder care’ in India

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Adult diapers in India: Emerging business to meet a growing demand (Elder care)

I first heard about 'adult diapers' while reading an article about an astronaut's wife who drove from Texas to Florida non-stop. (link) She drove over 500 miles to confront a romantic rival. She was able to drive  considerable distance non-stop, without even a bathroom break aided by adult diapers. This tidbit was filed away in the back of my mind for years till the need for adult diapers hit home; literally.

A couple of years ago, my dad, who is suffering from Prostate cancer began to wet the bed at night frequently. We realized that the involuntary bedwetting while sleeping wasn’t healthy. It could lead to infections and other complications too. After exploring medical alternatives and therapy to control frequent urination, we decided to get him adult diapers.

Having that chat with a parent or adult who needs diapers 


It is not easy to have a conversation with an adult or senior-citizen who may obviously need an adult-diaper. While the symptoms of bed-wetting may be obvious, having the conversation can be awkward.

At some point, we realized that wearing an adult diapers was a medication-free alternative to his 'problem,' but convincing him was not easy.  After all, my dad, a proud Air Force veteran had refused to use a walking-stick even in his late seventies, till it became absolutely essential.  He would argue that an 'accident' was a one-off or that he would 'control' himself, but with persistence we were able to finally get him convinced.


I realized that we were not alone in this endeavor.  It is interesting how the term 'diapers' is itself a bit touchy, as a Wikipedia entry on the topic explains
“In the medical community, professionals are trained to use alternative terms such as "briefs" rather than "diapers" for the sake of dignity, as the term "diapers" is associated with children and therefore may have a negative connotation. In practice, though, most health care workers are accustomed to calling them diapers, especially those that resemble children's diapers.”

Market demand and supply 


I got the first few cartons of diapers for my dad while returning back from the US. The diapers I got in bulk from Sams-club were relatively inexpensive, but of rather good quality. At the time, my dad would go through one diaper a night. My brother, who lives in England also got a few cartons during his visit. After the initial stock of diapers got over, I realized that importing the diapers was neither practical nor sustainable, and I began to explore alternatives in the Indian market.



My brief research indicated that the market for adult diapers in India has really taken off as the aging and relatively affluent middle class continues to live longer.  A couple of other factors also drive this trend. A middle class that can afford to spend 40-50 rupees on 1 or 2 diapers a night, and is increasingly aware of its benefits and use. The topic of 'good quality and cheap' diapers is surprisingly common among the younger generation who are comfortable 'shopping' for it at pharmacies and online stores. Hiring full-time domestic help and caregivers in urban India can be relatively expensive. Use of diapers at night for senior citizen can be a viable alternative for some.

During the past year, I have shopped for a variety of adult diapers brands in the market. We tried unbranded diapers from local chemists, though we generally stuck with popular brands like Tena, Friends, Kare, Keane etc. My dad also tried several kinds of diapers including pant-style pullup diapers and the other velcro-enabled ones. We finally zeroed in on a couple of pull-up diapers that he used like an extended underwear at night and for hospital trips and outings.

Other Practical Applications of Adult-diapers


Adult diapers seem to have other practical applications to. For example, Astronauts wear trunklike diapers called "Maximum Absorbency Garments", or MAGs, during liftoff and landing. On space shuttle missions, each crew member receives three diapers—for launch, reentry and a spare in case reentry has to be waved off and tried later. (NASA)

The Wikipedia entry explains “The super-absorbent fabric used in disposable diapers, which can hold up to 400 times its weight, was developed so Apollo astronauts could stay on spacewalks and extra-vehicular activity for at least six hours.  Originally, only female astronauts would wear Maximum Absorbency Garments, as the collection devices used by men were unsuitable for women; however, reports of their comfort and effectiveness eventually convinced men to start wearing the diapers as well.”

Bottomline: With an aging population of an affluent middle-class, demand for this practical aid for adults  will continue to grow India. While senior-citizen are the primary consumers of adult-diaper, most of the shopping and research is done by the middle-generation (like self) or even tech savvy youngsters stepping in to help grandparents.

Articles on the topic:



A review of cottage industry around ‘elder care’ in India

During the past year, I have taken on the responsibility for caregiving for my elderly father and mother. My 80-year-old dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and Parkinsons, and needs help with his basic needs including care and feed. My mother, senior in age herself, was unable to manage the affairs at home. Therefore, my wife and I decided to move back to India to live with them.

I decided to hire a caregiver to assist with my father’s day-to-day needs. For about six months, we hired an elderly lady to help at night with dad’s diaper change and bath and breakfast next morning. For about a year, he was a bit mobile and was able to walk around with assistance. Towards the end of last year, his condition took a nosedive and he was bedridden. We decided to engage a full-time caregiver at home.

My experience in hiring and managing caregivers has given me some insight into the highly fragmented cottage industry around senior-care. The vast majority of elderly-caregiving in India, is still managed by family members. However, nuclear families like mine are realizing that they are ill-equipped to take on the complex chores involved in supporting aging parents while also managing their own lives and families.

These are my observations on my year-long journey of vetting, hiring and managing caregivers for an elderly gentleman in India.

Hiring a caregiver for an elderly? Define your requirements


Elders at home who need a caregiver are obviously going to be infirm and helpless. They may find it hard to acknowledge that they need help with caregiving. The senior citizen will generally not be in a position to define all their requirements.

In a reversal of roles, the younger members of the family take on the responsibility of vetting and hiring caregivers and supervising them.

Caregiving for the elderly requires a person with empathy who can manage - and sometimes challenge - the whimsical needs of frail elders. They also need the physical and emotional resilience to manage highly stressful situations; and sometimes pushback doting family members who might have their own demands.

If you happen to be responsible for caregiving, you should begin with a simple checklist based on your specific needs and commitments that may include
  • Help with basic care and feeding of the senior citizen
  • Help with bathing or sponge bath and a change of clothing and general hygiene (e.g to prevent bedsores if the person is bedridden)
  • Change of diapers and cleanup, and fixing a catheter and urine bag as required
  • Administering medication and assistance with basic medical needs like a nebulizer or inhaler 
  • Generally keeping the environment clean and sterile to prevent infections
A checklist like this can be handy while vetting and hiring a caregiver since you will have to guide her/him with your specific needs during the initial days after they join your family.

A good caregiver can certainly help with basic needs, including feeding, bathing, toilet and other requirements of the elder. However, I realized that even engaging a full-time caregiver does not let a family abdicate its responsibilities that can include managing the logistics. For instance, I still have to manage the procurement and administration of medicines, medical supplies and other sundry needs.

My wife and mother manage the domestic chores at home, that now include care and feed for my father and also the needs of the caregiver. After all, a full-time caregiver becomes an extended member of the family, and will have their needs.

The cottage industry around caregiving for elders


The caregiving needs of home-care in India is unique since the middle-class families are increasingly fragmented and nuclear, and elders try to live and manage on their own till they are unable to. The concept of old-age-homes and senior living is still at a very nascent stage and is generally not tailored for the infirm and bedridden elders. Elders generally fallback on family at their hour of need.

Given the unique needs of the Indian middle class, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in this sector. Most caregivers are either individuals or small ‘agencies’ employing a few people who get clients via word-of-mouth referrals.  Unlike other menial services – like hiring servants or cleaners - caregiving for the elderly and infirm is a highly personalized affair. The needs can range from simple care-and-feed to more unique care depending on medical and other health-related conditions.

Caricature of Dad's caregiver - by our son Vijay

Caregivers in India are generally independent contractors who work for small-time agents. A few elder-care ‘chains’ like Portea are also trying to grow in this market by hiring and training caregivers and might include other ‘packages’ like service of nurses and doctor home visits.

There are some vocations like nursing and caregiving that require people with a certain even temperament who can step up and care for the needy and helpless. Caregiving is a service job that requires minimal training. As there are no requirements for training or education, the barriers to entry are low.

For a manual-job, with minimal medical skills, caregiving pays reasonably well. The current rate for a live-in caregiver in large cities like Bangalore ranges from 20-25,000 rupees a month; and about 14-16,000 for a day or night-shift. The ‘agency’ keeps a percentage of this amount as a fee and pays the caregivers about 10-12,000 rupees a month. Of course, the price I am quoting (circa 2018) is a ballpark and is generally open to negotiation based on one’s specific requirements and location where you live.

Hiring Caregivers: Lessons and tips: You can’t abdicate your responsibilities  


If you are hiring a live-in caregiver, you will also have to plan for other basic logistics like a living area for the caregiver and the elderly so that it doesn’t intrude into the day-to-day activities for the rest of the family. We are fortunate to be living in a house with a spare room with an attached bathroom that we have dedicated for my bedridden father and the caregiver, Andy. I arranged for a TV and some bedding for Andy and he was all-set.

By hiring a caregiver, you are essentially ‘outsourcing’ your day-to-day responsibilities. And like any outsourcing contract, you may delegate, but will have to retain administrative control. A caregiver can be expected to help with the basic needs of the senior-citizen, but will also require some active monitoring. You should also be willing to step in when required. For example, a senior’s health may not follow a steady trajectory and one must be around to understand the day-to-day changes and step-in and seek medical help when required.

Andy, the caregiver, we had hired for a small-agency, was from Manipur and had decided to travel back to his hometown for Christmas. His reasoning was simple: he had spent the past four years in Bangalore working for the agency and needed a break. He and I knew that he was probably not going to come back, but my mother had become very dependent on Andy. The agency promised a replacement a month in advance, but the transition to the new caregiver, Wyisng, wasn’t seamless.

The agent said he had identified Wyisng, who was coming out of another contract, but couldn’t ‘hold’ and house him till Andy was relieved; would we be okay to have two people living with us till Andy left on his vacation? My mother was distraught and confused that she would have to depend on yet another person to help with caregiving for my father.  I weighed my options and said we couldn’t accommodate two more people at home. I asked the agent to house the new guy till Andy was ready to leave. This is just a small example of a ‘firefighting’ I couldn’t have done if I had delegated the caregiving remotely.

The lesson here is simple: Vetting and hiring a good caregiver can certainly help with the basic needs of the elderly, but others in the family need to continually chip-in. A caregiver also needs to be continually monitored.

Dad's caregiver Wysing

Friday, January 26, 2018

26th January - Lalbagh flower show 2018

One of the must-do things for folks in Bengaluru is the Lalbagh flower show.  Form karnataka.com: 
"Every year on Independence Day and Republic day, flower shows are organized at the Lalbagh Botanical Garden. The event is jointly organized by Department of Horticulture and Mysore Horticulture Society, this flower show has been one of the most awaited events in the Garden City."
At the center of the 207th show this year is a 15-feet floral tribute to the legend of Bahubali, and the historic Glass House itself has been turned into a mini Shravanabelagola. A few pictures from our visit on the 26th follow


The life size Gomateshwara Mahamastakabhisheka left a fair share of schoolgirls giggling, but hopefully enlightened.




The Ramayana Theme was well depicted with a garden and flowers.

Flowers everywhere to feast one's eyes



What's an outing without a few family selfies !



Getting there: Drove down to Mantri mall near Malleshwaram and parked our car. Took the Metro from Mantri station to Lalbagh. Walked from West gate to the Glass house area.


Lalbagh is a 240 acres garden and is located in south Bengaluru. Lalbagh was started as an orchard in the Bangalore Fort by Hyder Ali in the 1760s, something his son Tipu Sultan further developed by introducing native and exotic species of flowers from Europe. Extensive development work in the lung space, however, started in 1874 when John Cameron took over as superintendent. At the turn of the 19th century, Lalbagh expanded from its original 45 acres to 100 acres. Cameron constructed the Glass House in 1889 and also started commercial cultivation of fruits. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

What is a Bandh, and Why do citizen of modern India continue with the practice?

If you happen to live in the Indian Silicon Valley of Bengaluru, you will be aware of a "Karnataka bandh" declared today (25th Jan 2018).

If you work for a major tech company, you perhaps informed your clients and global counterparts that although tomorrow – the 26th January – happens to be a national holiday on account of the Indian republic day, the company has also decided to shutter operations for the day.

Your will probably take an extract of a Wikipedia entry to respond to the question  “So, what is a bandh?”
Bandh is a form of protest used by political activists in South Asian countries such as India and Nepal. It is similar to a general strike. During a bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike. The community or political party declaring a bandh expects the general public to stay at home and not report for work. Most affected are shopkeepers, who are expected to keep their shops closed, as well as public transport operators of buses and cabs who are expected to stay off the road and not carry passengers. There have been instances when large metropolitan cities have been brought to a standstill.

Indians take pride in how the country is modernizing and globalizing. However, Indians seem to accept the archaic practice of ‘Bundh’ used by powerful politicians to paralyze civic and commercial activities to score political points.

Image from https://twitter.com/ndtv/status/956363289792995329

Growing up in Bangalore in the eighties and nineties, I had got accustomed to periodic "Cauvery Bundh" over the sharing of water from the river that flows from Karnataka to the rice bowl in neighboring Tamil Nadu. The agitations and Bundhs would be more frequent and widespread during drought years or when ‘tribunals’ passed orders adjudicating water sharing agreements. Tamil speaking minorities living in southern regions of Karnataka would occasionally be targeted and buses and cars bearing ‘TN’ license plates would be brunt to get on front page.

Fast forward to 2018 when the mere murmur of a Bandh sends head-honcos at Infosys, Wipro and other tech giants to fall in line and announce shutting the doors. (ref: Information Technology majors Infosys and Wipro are among those suspending operations on Thursday in view of the Karnataka bandh call). Of course, you can’t fault them for focusing on ‘safety first.’ A bandh doesn’t affect fat-cat businesses with high-margins alone; the real sufferers are daily-wage earners, small-businesses vendors and hawkers who are not allowed to eke out a living and lose a day’s wage.

Organizing a bandh: top down and bottom-up

Having lived and worked in a dozen countries across three continents during the past two decades, I am morbidly fascinated by the grassroots mobilization capabilities of Bundh organizers. It takes considerable resources and money to hire and motivate local political activists in subdivisions across a major metropolis, who in turn engage ‘muscle men’ to walk around or ride around in bikes and cars ‘enforcing’ the dictates of their political bosses.

The local hired-guns may not know or care much about the issues triggering a bandh, but will enforce it because they are asked and are being paid to do so.

Of course, not all Bandh work with the same level of severity, and enforcement varies for local, partial-bundh to “total” ones that can impact major metros like the “Karnataka Bundh of 2018” is impacting folks in Bangalore.


Why do modern Indians tolerate this medieval practice of venting political frustrations?


We are seeing a demographic shift in India, with nearly 40 per cent of the Indian population between 13 to 35 years. Urban youth are increasingly educated and tech-savvy. However, none of this seems to matter when it comes to aping the culture of bandh.

In a cricket loving nation, the Cricketing star Virat Kohli’s tweet today succinctly summarizes the frustration of a section of the intelligentsia: