Sunday, August 23, 2015

Effective Employee Engagement in Hospitals: Challenges are Opportunities, Bonded by Nobility!

In India’s quest for becoming a more vibrant and more robust society, healthcare plays a very important role, along with all other aspects of social infrastructure like education, housing, nutrition, water, and sanitation. In the important field of healthcare, hospitals have a great role to play. The General Hospitals and the Railway Hospitals established and run by the Central & State Governments and the Indian Railways respectively, and the dedicated hospitals established and run by certain large industrial townships and leading business houses have served as the backbone of Indian hospital infrastructure. The entry of private sector into medical care in the post-independent India initiated a significant change in the country’s hospital system.  P D Hinduja Hospital established in the early 1950s in Mumbai by late Shri P D Hinduja, the visionary patriarch of the Hinduja Family is a pioneering example of how business entrepreneurship can transform healthcare in India. The transformation in healthcare standards brought in by the private initiative concept has been significant. Subsequent decades have seen the important trend of medical professionals turning entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector through corporatization route in India.

One of the important benefits of corporate hospitals has been the institutionalization of a national hospitals-chain concept. Apollo Hospitals established by the physician-visionary Dr Prathap C Reddy in Chennai is a shining example of what corporate hospitals can achieve. Starting with the first hospital in Chennai in the early 1980s, Apollo has grown rapidly in Chennai as well as across India. Fortis Hospitals, Wockhardt Hospitals and a few other such chain initiatives in more specialized areas like eye care and dental care are clear examples that the corporate imperative of growth drives the creation of a large modern hospital infrastructure that could benefit the society. Governments have also become cognizant of how a combination of scale, scope, modern technology and best medical practices constitute both the drive and result of corporate hospitals. The new NDA Government has, for example, taken up establishment of more All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMSs) as an important driver for social equity in different states. What has been accomplished, both in public and private sectors, so far is but a fraction of what needs to be done in India.

Medicine and Management

These developments have brought to the fore, the importance of management in the growth of hospital chains. As long as hospitals remained as location-specific ventures run within the State budgets or specific corporate contributions, the challenges and opportunities of management tended to be loaded in favour of medicine rather than management. As commercial and business interests started to fuse with the welfare interests in a corporate setting, management is seen to be as important as medicine in enabling growth of hospitals.  There are no preset limits for growth nor are there any restraints on corporate entry. The four pillars of successful hospitals, namely scale, scope, technology and practices become the four pillars of successful hospital management. The success in each and together, however, rests on people.  

The variety of talent that is required to run a modern hospital is simply amazing. From interns and assistants to specialists and super-specialists, and from nursing and paramedical staff to engineering and technology professionals, the expertise that is required is varied. Today’s hospitals are an embodiment of technology as much as of medical practice. Expertise with equipment has become a dominant need, bringing with it a concomitant need for superior medical and surgical support practices. This has not only resulted in better diagnostics and treatment but also brought out the need for generating adequate returns on investment for viability and reinvestment.  The net consequence is that a modern hospital is a 24X7 operation, evident as a beehive of intense activity during the daytime, and as an institution that never sleeps even in the nighttime.

Personalized Science

A hospital is like no other institutional activity (not even like education which is commonly seen as the most individualized institutional activity) not only because the biology of each individual varies but also because wellness is a combination of the body and mind. Surely, there is a great degree of standardization in terms of disease causative organisms and disease curing pharmaceuticals but each individual (and individual’s) case of disease and its treatment. Unlike in a factory or laboratory setting where each good process produces a good result and a bad process leads to a bad result, in a hospital setting a good process may not always assure a good result while a bad result will surely lead to life-threatening outcomes. This is because the individual cause and response mechanisms vary significantly. A hospital, unlike any other business or industrial setting, converts an intrinsically “bad” (diseased) “product” (patient) into a “good product” (cured patient).

Further complexity arises because a cured patient still needs days and weeks if not months to become a fully recovered individual. This means that even outside the hospital’s confines, the hospital needs to exert a positive influence through motivation for, and engagement with, the patient. In doing so, the hospital needs to be sensitive to the living environment of the patient and be concerned about the caregivers (and stress givers too!). A standardized and holistic treatment paradigm is, therefore, a major challenge. The way the challenge can be met is only through pooling of knowledge on patients, practices and outcomes. To address the complexity of personalized science that true medicine is, a factory-style commercially run hospital would have few solutions except continuous employee engagement. In a 24X7 operational environment where every participant is fully stretched and specializations are tightly defined, the time and space to engage employees is severely limited.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement has multiple connotations. Many, including experts, define engagement in terms of initiatives and activities such as on-site and off-site learning and development initiatives, group sports, celebration times and recognition initiatives. This is probably in tune with the philosophy that individuals in organizations are well covered on-the-job as to the ‘know how’ and ‘know why’ aspects, and they need to be developed only in terms of personality and interpersonal skills. Employee engagement has, however, a perspective beyond competencies and attributes of members and teams. Employee engagement is both a process and outcome; the process seeks to develop and sustain oneness between the employee(s) and the organization, with oneness being the outcome. Employee engagement would be a cluster of initiatives emphasizing the larger purpose of the organization and its employees. It demonstrates how the work of each and every employee contributes to the larger purpose.

In the case of an automobile firm, each employee is engaged to appreciate how his or her work contributes to making the automobile more efficient, more economical, more elegant and safer for the user. For a pharmaceutical firm, the employee is engaged to appreciate how the medicines developed and manufactured by his or her firm are critical to healthcare and patients. In a design firm, the employee is engaged to appreciate how his or her designs help consumers meet new functionalities with greater lifetime value. For a hospital, employee engagement is all about diagnosis and treatment of disease and making patients healthy. Firms typically resort to multiple staff get-togethers, with adequate time and space, to promote employee engagement. However, unlike such firms, hospitals which work round the clock in confined spaces find it difficult to disengage their staff for even short lengths of time and in any extent of space.

Engagement at Apollo

Ever since its inception in 1983, Apollo Hospitals has set up a scorching pace of growth. According to Apollo Website, in just over 3 decades, Apollo’s presence grew to encompass over 10,000 beds across 64 hospitals, more than 2200 pharmacies, over 100 primary care and diagnostic clinics, 115 telemedicine units across 9 countries, health insurance services, global projects consultancy, 15 academic institutions and a Research Foundation with a focus on global clinical trials, epidemiological studies, stem-cell and genetic research. Each of the facilities is marked by a seemingly endless flow of trusting patients keeping all of its facilities and expert and support staff fully stretched. Chronic hyper-demand and consequent acute under-capacity leaves no time for anyone to be on any special engagement efforts, either in terms of time and space. Yet, Apollo happens to be at the forefront of medical technology and practice, providing world class healthcare at fractional costs.  The model of employee engagement at Apollo, that is effective despite the constraints, is unique. It is a combination of living entrepreneurship, visible leadership, state-of-the-art technology, patient-centric business model and sustainable brand equity.   

Fundamentally, the Founder-Chairman, Dr Prathap C Reddy continues to be a highly visible leader even as the hospital network focuses on the strides made by him under his astute leadership. He has retained, to date, his office in the hospital premises, preferring the bustle of teeming patients to the solitude that an independent office tower may offer. Secondly, the hospital organizes highly visible campaigns within the hospital premises; the recent green tree show recognizing the families of organ donors and raising awareness about the virtues and benefits of organization is one example. Dr Reddy takes part in all such campaigns, reinforcing leadership visibility. Thirdly, Apollo pioneered a system of highly competent and creative surgeons and physicians developing their own teams of medical excellence. The institute for cardio-thoracic surgery under the care and leadership of Dr M R Girinath, Chief Cardiovascular Surgeon at Apollo Hospitals Chennai is a great example. Specialized institutes were progressively set up under the leadership of various physicians and surgeons of repute. Fourthly, Apollo established schools of nursing to train nurses to the requisite standards, and to provide the needed talent pool given the shortage of qualified and trained nurses. Fifthly, Dr Reddy pioneered the integration of the latest technologies as they became available, from PET Scans and fMRIs to Radio Knifes and Robotic Surgeries.

Bonded by Nobility

Employee engagement in hospitals should not merely be a process of managements engaging with employees. Effective employee engagement in hospitals needs to be a highly visible process of employees inspired to engage themselves in patient care. Engagement develops with an appreciation of how complex and challenging, and yet how satisfying, the process of scientific, empathetic and compassionate patient care is. As individual experts treat complex cases, they need to be showcased not merely to build the hospital’s brand equity but more importantly to increase the confidence levels of patients and to inspire its medical experts and technical staff to seek higher accomplishments. Apart from introducing high technology equipment, information technology needs to be employed to automate patient medical records and transactions, facilitating data integrity with faster turnaround. As hospitals fight infections, avoidance of contamination and assurance of sterility becomes paramount; in this, every employee from janitors, ward boys and caterers to nurses, doctors and theatre staff have a critical role. Unlike any other industry, hospitals deal in microbes and viruses as well as biological and medical waste even as they seek to rid patients of these harmful marauders and toxins. Environment, Safety and Health needs to be a high visibility and high impact division in hospitals.

Continuing medical education for all employees at all levels is the core of employee engagement. Periodic public interest campaigns to enhance medical awareness (like the MIOT campaign in the print media on different types of cancers) provide the essential connect between the society and the hospitals. Emergency and Ambulance Services are yet another component where saving the lives stays at the centre and core of all employees. Home health services and telemedicine could provide a cost-effective holistic wellness paradigm based on prevention as well as rehabilitation and recovery. That employee engagement transcends the boundaries of individual hospitals but encompasses a network of different hospitals, law and order departments as well as general public across cities is illustrated by how organ donations and transplants are performed through networked professionals and green corridors. A life saved is a life given to an individual; a patient cured is a gift to a family and the society; and a disease prevented is a contribution to the humanity. Employee engagement founded on these principles is a noble fulfillment that converts the scientific, operational and business challenges of high quality, affordable and compassionate medical care into a noble opportunity of employee self-actualization and socio-economic development.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 23, 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015

India’s Growth Potential: Sky is the Limit but Stock is the Ceiling?

A few intriguing data sets speak volumes about the growth potential of India, a huge nation of 125 crore (1.25 billion) people. The first is that in 2014-15, airlines in India carried 823 crore passengers which is nearly 100 times more than 871 lakh passengers carried by the Indian railways. This is counterintuitive given that huge sections of the population cannot afford air travel where typical fares are 50 to 100 times more than rail fares, depending on the type of airline and class of travel. This indicates that it is becoming impossible to secure reserved travel on the railways with short lead times even as more people are realizing the time value of money. The question then is whether billions of dollars should be poured into the aviation sector or creating a pan-India network of superfast bullet trains (or possibly on both).

The second is that India has 100 crore telecom subscribers but only 27 crore Internet subscribers.  Less than 50 percent of the households own a television while over 63 percent have telephones. Only 67 percent of households have access to electricity. Given the seamless connectivity that drives communication and entertainment, a completely energized household network may lead to a completely connected and re-wired nation. Less than 50 percent of the households have access to tap water or toilet facilities. Less than 50 percent of the households qualify as per modern building safety standards. For similar population, China has more than 3 times of households than India. These statistics are only a few among a variety of statistics that demonstrate the tremendous growth potential that awaits India.

Enigmatic story  

Any set of numbers relating to India that we may take or any comparison with China or a developed nation clearly outlines the development gap that needs to be bridged viewed in one perspective, and the huge potential that can be achieved if the gap were to be bridged in another perspective.  Much as the Internet and Electronic Commerce are the new waves of growth, India needs to bridge huge gaps in physical infrastructure if the total population needs to be served equitably. This huge need and potential for huge infrastructure contrasts sharply with the travails all the core industries, from steel to cement and from capital goods to power sector, are facing. Unfulfilled demand, therefore, is one aspect but finding sustainable ways to prime all the sectors of the economy for capacity building and fulfilling growth is the other vital aspect.

Import of 2 to 3 million tonnes of steel from China is enough to threaten the Indian steel industry and unnerve the investors in the sector. Similar is the case with the automobile sector which has emerged only now from a multi-year downturn, perhaps the longest trough in its cyclical history. Sugar industry has been facing unviability for years, impacting the farmers. With a highly sensitive and volatile stock market, hyper-anxious investors, uneasy bankers worried about asset quality, and cash-constrained industry, there seems to be very little new choice than continued incrementalism in India’s growth journey, even if the growth rate were to move from 6 to 7 percent to 10 to 12 percent. The hope that foreign direct investment (FDI) would provide the much needed investment is true more in terms of creating jobs rather than transforming India’s industry and infrastructure.

Stock is the ceiling   

While for India sky is the limit for the growth story it looks as if it is the stock market that sets the ceiling. Stock markets are the platforms that can enable companies raise funds based on performance and potential. The Indian stock markets are, however, caught in a vortex of unpredictable foreign portfolio investments and unceasing quest of investors chasing quick returns. With the tendency of promoters limiting public issues to opportune premium pricing moments, the stock markets are more of platforms for reinvesting money in limited stocks rather than attracting new capital for new ventures on a continuing basis. Increasingly, the risk-return game is being played by angel investing and private equity funds in momentum sectors rather than in long term physical structures.

The Government has tried to alleviate the situation by having a mix of stock financing and bond financing for public sector and utility projects. Without bond financing backed by sovereign guarantees certain vital corporations like Rural Electrification Corporation and Power Finance Corporation may not have achieved the current level of capital formation. Nor would have development institutions such as IDBI and SIDBI expanded their capital access in their growth phases. Majority of public and private sector corporations are, however, hamstrung for funds and have to proceed carefully with an eye on a volatile stock market even if sky is the limit for India’s growth. Policy makers as well as market investors have to make a serious choice in terms of generating investments for India’s growth.

Faith, rather than return

India’s growth story can be fulfilled only by investments that are driven by long term faith rather than short term returns. It is difficult to imagine that bullet trains, metro rails or expressways and even steel plants, power utilities or cement works can be established by investments that seek a payback in 5 or 10 years. They cannot also be attracted by providing adjunct corridor lands as incentives for commercialization. India’s growth story can be executed only with faith, an unwavering faith that there is so much growth potential in the country that no investment, as long as it is properly planned and executed, can go wrong. The fact that the Government is able to unlock its huge investments, made several decades ago, in public sector undertakings by marginal stake sales nowadays is proof that value built over the years in right projects would pay back over course of time.

The question for investors is how soon is soon enough and how late is not too late. There are no standard answers to these; pension funds may have a preference for guaranteed even if low belated returns while private equity may continue to bat for quick returns despite very relevant nationalistic and patriotic concerns. In India, nationalized banks and development financial institutions have traditionally played a leading role in funding long gestation projects. However, they do not seem to be as active in this area nowadays as they should be due to the stressed asset situation. The debate is skewed by a compelling need for banks to conform to Basel norms. The one worry in this crucial area of public policy is a lack of proper debate on what constitutes a performing asset and non-performing asset, and the management and governance considerations thereof.

Investing in faith

There is clearly a lack of alignment between policy makers, promoters, managements, banks, financial institutions, private equity investors and general investors on what constitutes the fair gestation period for a fair return in different sectors. There is also lack of alignment on which types of investments are appropriate for which sectors. Rather than focus on just one or two topics, institutions such as NITI AAYOG, CII, ASSOCHAM and FICCI, should develop holistic white papers. The author would like to postulate that private and foreign investments should focus on areas that are market and export intensive, create employment and place greater purchasing power in the hands of general public. These investors should focus on investments that provide a fair return in 5 to 10 years.

The Governments should concentrate on building infrastructure and infrastructure enabling projects which can pay a return only in the medium and long term, say from 10 to 30 years. The fair return would accrue at a faster pace if appropriate user charges which the markets can bear (for example, utility rates, toll charges) are possible. Such higher charges would be feasible if the private and foreign investments spur employment and help society with greater purchasing power. The overall policy would thus have a target well-balanced investment portfolio, with all the investment segments work synergistically. This policy would rest on sound economic fundamentals when the economic structure of each industry is well researched and well-articulated.


Stocks and investments through/for stock markets are just one, albeit powerful, form of generating investments. These are not, however, the right ones for aiming at sky-high investments. As the stock pricing history of certain long lead infrastructure firms in the high days of their public offerings and subsequent euphoric days indicates, such stock prices are fuelled by unrealistic anticipations and tend to fall as rapidly as they rise. Efforts to rely on stock market mechanisms for investment-intensive and long gestation projects could create artificial bubbles too, at grave risk to investors, especially the retail investors. A healthy bond market with sufficient incentives in terms of sovereign guaranteed, tax-free returns could be an alternative platform for public participation. With more focused investment participation driven by sound socio-economic logic, India can achieve multifaceted growth in diverse areas.

Public sector banks and financial institutions would continue to be powerful drivers for enabling infrastructure funding. As the Government is now planning, major contributions from the Government to ensure capital adequacy would be a worthwhile investment to strengthen these institutions and channelize investments into projects of faith through these important institutions. One cannot imagine, for example, the huge enrolment for the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojna without the drive and structure of public sector banks. Voluntary and mandatory participations from companies under the Corporate Social Responsibility programmes are also making a difference, but could make an even more impactful contribution if they are focussed on few initiatives such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Education for Underprivileged.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 16, 2015

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijan as a True Blockbuster: A Touching Cross-border Journey of Emotions

In the movie world, there is no pre-defined success formula; familiarity succeeds sometimes while novelty succeeds some other times, heroism succeeds many times but fails quite a few times too. Technical wizardry dazzles the box office occasionally but falls flat most other times if not supplemented by other cinematic elements. In India, apart from all these success factors, emotions, especially family emotions, play a major role in shaping a movie’s  success. The film director, as a manager of resources, from actors to departments and from finance to time, needs to have a success recipe probably customized to each genre that rules the heart as much as the mind. The challenge is particularly daunting given the heterogeneity of cultures, languages and nativities in India. Two recent Indian movie blockbusters, Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaijan, have demonstrated that the Indian movie audience, despite its huge diversity, appreciates movies of completely different polarities.

Baahubali, the recently released Telugu blockbuster set in a background of mythical fiction, has some interesting lessons in this respect. Primarily, the movie which is a gripping story of warring royal brothers reinforces an easy to postulate but difficult to execute premise that across-the-board excellence from characters to departments, high on technology and visuals as well as valorous emotions assures success. On the other hand, Bajrangi Bhaijan which is a tender, heart-warming story of an innocent Bajrangi Bhakt risking his life to return a mute girl child to her unknown home in Pakistan has proved to be an equally sensational hit. This movie reinforces the commonly subscribed postulate that an emotionally gripping movie that has excellent characterization is an eternal winning formula for Indians despite the changes in family values.

My earlier blog post on Baahubali in Strategy Musings, July 19, 2015 addresses its success formula ( while this blog post looks at the success drivers of Bajrangi Bhaijan. But as a management blog, this post first takes some liberties of analysis. 

Dissimilarly similar

At first glance, Baahubali and Bajrangi seem as different as chalk and cheese. On the contrary, they are also dissimilarly similar, appealing to both mind and heart. The subtle but important difference is that Baahubali appeals to the mind first and touches the heart next while Bajrangi touches the heart first and appeals to the mind next. Both the movies are based on ‘lost and found’ theme; Baahubali develops it in a virtual mythical context while Bajrangi works on it in a real life geo-political context. Both the movies are based on heroism, with Baahubali focusing on raw physical heroism while Bajrangi focuses on sensitive emotional heroism. Baahubali makes extraordinary hero of a normal movie hero while Bajrangi portrays an extremely macho movie hero with extraordinary heroism of a charming simpleton. Both the movies seek to elevate commonly desired values to genuine humanistic purity; Bahubali messages that good prevails over evil while Bajrangi messages that love dissolves hatred.  

Baahubali makes the unfamiliar (Mahishmati kingdom) familiar in one’s imagination while Bajrangi makes the familiar (Indo-Pak border separation) disappear in one’s desire. In both cases, the directors prefer brevity to detail (fast paced tight screen plays) and rely on expansiveness to enhance visualization (vast climaxes). Both are products of meticulous preplanning and consummate choice of locations that are appropriate for the respective storylines. Baahubali bridges royalty and commons while Bajrangi bridges Hindu and Muslim religions. Baahubali makes us wonder if the hero or his mother is the real hero while Bajrangi makes us wonder if Bajrangi or the lost child is the real hero. Both movies impress because of a few important characters with powerful characterization and apt casting. And, finally the stories of both the movies, belonging to completely distinct genres, have been penned by the same creative writer K V Vijayendra Prasad!

Such stretched comparisons apart, the truth is that Bajrangi excels in doing something that only Indian movies can do – touch the heart and impress the mind, simply, sensitively and superbly!

Director’s blockbuster 

Bajrangi, as a blockbuster, is an out and out director’s movie. A director’s movie is one in which one feels the roles and never sees the actors, roles come to life from the first frame itself, and viewers themselves start living the roles. The emotions that one sees on the screen, from tears to raptures, are involuntarily experienced by the viewers. Typically, the viewers race with the movie to anticipate the outcomes that they desire. A consummate director brings out hitherto unseen talent from his actors. He makes the viewers feel that they have been in the locations shown in the movie at some point of time in their lives even if they have never been. To be able to do all of this, the director first makes all of his actors and technicians experience the impact of the movie as they come on board.  Kabir Khan as the director of Bajrangi has been able to provide this unique experience to his actors and technicians and, as a result, to the viewers in full measure leading to its blockbuster status. That he has been able to treat boldly issues of Indo-Pak relations and religious tolerance with a deft combination of humour and humanism speaks highly of his capabilities.

Although Bajrangi is racing to cross the earnings of all other previous blockbusters of Hindi screen (more revenues in lesser number of days than PK or Dhoom 3), a true blockbuster is characterized by different benchmarks. It draws viewers of all ages and of all backgrounds as well as different ideologies to theatres; it has viewers trooping in before the title card is played, has the viewers glued to their seats except for intermission and has them leaving the theatre only after the scroll of the last title cards ends. And more importantly, the viewers resolve that they must spread the message of the movie to their near and dear and long to return to the movie sooner than later. For a country such as India with diverse languages and multiple cultural subsets a blockbuster movie is also one that appeals universally without either retake or dubbing options. And finally, a blockbuster movie stands on its own despite other blockbusters released. Bajrangi fulfils all these criteria effortlessly (as does Baahubali too).

Defining moments

Bajrangi ranks extremely high on emotional quotient. Normally, blockbusters have impressive scenes but true blockbusters have defining moments. In Bajrangi, as the trains couple and decouple and chug off even as the child from Pakistan gets stranded trying to save a lamb on the ground is the first such defining moment. As the child helplessly tries to follow the moving train, the viewers get instantly connected with the child with their hearts shaken – and their journey for rehabilitation and re-joining of the child begins as much as it does for the child in the movie. Every time the child tries to connect with Bajrangi, the viewers merge with the screen trying to connect instead. When Bajrangi tries to disconnect (albeit reluctantly) from the child, the viewers revolt. Another defining moment occurs when Bajrangi leaves her with the travel agent (with the child helplessly waving from behind the glass door); and the viewers become truly relieved when Bajrangi reclaims the child from the travel agent’s evil designs (smashing the evil doers in the sole macho scene of the movie)! All this is made poignant by the fact of the child not being able to speak.

Continuing the emotional journey, viewers get excited when Bajrangi decides to go to Pakistan to return the child to her mother and father, completely and innocently unmindful of the adversities of crossing the Indo-Pak border without any documents and without any knowledge of her home’s location. One of the final defining moments comes when the child is able to spot her mother in the journalist’s video of Dargah. The defining moments of the movie are critically important as they touch the heart, tug the emotions and make us live the emotional journey of Bajrangi and the child. It is not that the movie does not have its lighter moments, all of them anchored around the childlike innocence of Bajrangi or the well-meaning efforts of the journalist. Even the lighter moments invariably warm our hearts. The sum-total of the defining moments makes Bajrangi Bhaijan a truly defining movie, with natural emotionalism expressed in the most delicate and sensitive manner. 
Cast to perfection

Bajrangi Bhaijan scores very high in terms of how roles have been defined and characterization effected. Each role in the movie is delicately etched and thoughtfully enacted. Three principal characters carry the entire film, in a manner of speaking.  The initial crowd puller, of course, is Salman Khan who played the role of a devout Hindu Bramhin and a Hanuman Bhakt, called in the film as Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi or Bajrangi. The real heart stealer, however, is Harshaali Malhotra who expressively and touchingly played the role of Shahida or Munni, a mute hapless Muslim girl from Pakistan lost in unknown land. The third is Nawazuddin Siddiqui who played the role of Chand Nawaz, an intrepid TV channel journalist who understands genuine human emotions with empathy. The great thing about the characterization is that the director brought them out as good, lovable human beings even if they are also prone to some ordinary human proclivities. For example, Bajrangi is an exceptionally innocent do-gooder but his first reaction to the child tagging along with him is to detach himself; similarly when he comes to know that Munni is, in fact, a devout Muslim child, he entrusts her to a deceitful travel agent to take her to Pakistan (to protect his guardian family’s emotional stability) not knowing the consequences thereof.  

Shahida, the girl child, despite being taken care of very well in Dayanand’s family prays with devotion when she gets into a Masjid or erupts with joy when she has the opportunity to eat non-vegetarian food. Chand Nawaz, who plays a major role in guiding and protecting Bajrangi in the hostile Pakistani territory and the cops on chase, initially follows Bajrangi and Shahida just to get a scoop on Hindustani jasoos (spies). All other roles have been portrayed with a similar touch of realism. Probably, the true idealist in the movie is Rasika, daughter of Dayanand (played by Sharat Saxena) and who loves Pawan for his simple innocence; she acts as the moral compass for the family, and more importantly to Bajrangi, beleaguered in a swathe of emotions from time to time.  It is the touch of absolute human normality in otherwise sterling hearts that makes all the characters come real without even a touch of superficiality. The script writer and the director have together brought to life a set of characters who resonate with the inner subtleties and innate warmth of typical humans whether they are jeans clad ultra-modern youngsters or traditional-to-the-core family elders of this highly materialistic era.

Emotive power and visual splendour

Indian cinema, as Indian movie goers are aware, has had a glorious record of heart-warming family dramas, each with real-life portrayal of sensitive human emotions by India’s famed thespians. Bajrangi Bhaijan, without doubt, represents another evocative evolution of the emotive dimension of the Indian cinema. The movie also demonstrates that movie makers and movie actors can cast themselves in roles contrarian to their past, and in less than three hours deliver soothing messages of human oneness and togetherness which decades of harangue fail to deliver. In addition, Baahubali and Bajrangi herald a new wave of globalization of Indian cinema. The movie, like Baahubali, is another striking example of what an insightful director with a clear vision can achieve in making blockbusters that could appeal universally. The Baahubali and Bajrangi Bhaaijan phenomena also demonstrate that movies that touch the heart and appeal to the mind, with added visual splendour and musical vibrancy, have all the potential to take the Indian cinema across global frontiers.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 9, 2015

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dr A P J Abdul Kalam (1931-2015): President without Precedent

Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Former President of India breathed his last on July 27, 2015 doing what he always liked the best – sharing his thoughts with students; one last time, this time with the students of Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. Spontaneous and innumerable tributes have poured in from all parts of India cutting across generations, professions, religions, cultures and communities. The universal respect and affection Dr Kalam commanded from the vast millions of India has few comparisons in modern India. He had many firsts to his credit from being the driving force for a number of civilian space and military missile technologies to being the first people’s President and an ordinary Indian extraordinaire! The most glowing and compelling tribute to the legacy of Dr Abdul Kalam has been penned by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and is a must-read for everyone (

Dr Kalam was an amazing combination of many versatile parts; a self-made technocrat who developed himself from very humble beginnings, a brilliant leader of science who launched (literally!) many space and missile projects, a passionate believer in the development of indigenous science and technology, a connoisseur of art and music – an ardent fan of M S Subbulaksmi and a consummate player of Veena, a selfless man who entrusted all his savings to a trust, PURU, an inspirational icon for youth, a visionary and dreamer with practical solutions for the planet’s issues, an enthralling coach and mentor for students and researchers, a bundle of joy and happiness with children, a humanist who never allowed himself to be distanced from people,  a true secularist proficient in his Islamic religion as well as Hindu scriptures, a thoughtful writer with an impressive fusion of knowledge, ideation and execution, a builder of institutions and a renaissance leader in all senses of the term. It is this unique combination of multiple parts that makes Dr Abdul Kalam a truly differentiated leader.

There are a few inspirational thoughts that flow from an observation of the life and works of Dr Kalam which must be guide posts for all truly indigenous leaders.    

Indigenous, Ingenious

In an era where international education, higher degrees and global stints are seen as hallmarks of superiority, Dr Kalam epitomizes the quintessential Indian spirit that could shape a genius from the poor village roots of Rameshwaram through our own MIT (Madras Institute Technology) with an engineering degree and through our own public sector research laboratories (DRDL/DRDO and ISRO) to lead some of the most prestigious defence technology projects for India. As Dr Kalam gratefully acknowledges, his interest in education has been kindled by relatives and friends who motivated him to study, school teachers who inspired him to excel and educational institutions which provided the necessary foundations. His education and career had been shaped and influenced by some of the best professors and best space and defence scientists who believed in the development of indigenous science and technology.

Satellite projects such as Rohini, missile projects such as Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, Nag and Agni and nuclear projects such as Pokhran as well as developmental projects such as carbon-carbon and fibre-reinforced plastic, phase shifters, magnesium alloys, motors and servo-valves for missiles as well as novel stents and tablets characterize his indigenous scientific accomplishments. Ingenuity in indigenous development is the genius that India needs to inspire the millions of young students, scientists and technologists. As Dr Kalam’s life illustrates, India’s leaders would need to judge professionalism and accomplishments not from the international degrees one sports, the multinational corporate stints one does or even from the felicity with which one speaks or writes but essentially from the demonstrated ability to solve India’s developmental challenges and fulfil India’s economic aspirations with indigenous thought processes and talent pools. 

Igniting minds

Having understood with perseverance and experience what an inspired and ignited mind could do, Dr Kalam applied himself to dreamy ideas, visionary thoughts, rousing plans and earthy solutions. As the missile man and space scientist, Dr Kalam understood well the power of fire and the joy of flying. He was a prolific writer of books, with India 2020 (1998), Wings of Fire (1999), Ignited Minds (2002), Guiding Souls (2005), The Family and The Nation (2008), The Scientific Indian (2010), Target 3 Billion (2011), Turning Points (2012), My Journey (2013), Beyond 2020 (2014) and several other prosaic and poetic publications becoming living examples of his passion to communicate and share. Connected all though his books has been an appreciation of India’s immense potential and what India’s mind power and youth power could achieve if channelled rightly. Many unique concepts that are both spiritual and scientific resonate in different forms and contexts in one sublime fusion through the many books of his.

In Wings of Fire he focuses on knowledge as a spiritual journey of connecting with one’s own hidden knowledge, organizing his earthy mystique of thought in the four chapters of Orientation, Creation, Propitiation and Contemplation. In Ignited Minds he seeks to focus on dreams and visions, role models, visionary teachers and scientists, saints and seers, patriotism, knowledge and collaboration as the factors to build a new State. His work on Vision 2020 points out how as Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and Jawaharlal Nehru dreamed in the 1960s and eventually succeeded in their nuclear mission for peaceful purposes, and postulates why and how the nation and its leaders and its people must continue to dream and execute. The book lays out a thoughtful vision for India. Kalam’s spirit of scientific quest combined with his zest of a seer’s spirituality make an eclectic   combination that is worthy of emulation by leaders who are focused only on material transactions and performance metrics.

Teaching to reach

As is widely known, Kalam’s first love has been teaching and natural constituency has been  Young India, led by students and children. Here again, his personal integrity and unbounded optimism resonated instantly with the students. With the exception of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, no other leader has been able to connect with students and children as Dr Kalam has done. Simplicity rather than pomposity, empathy rather than superiority and intellect rather than dialect were his differentiators. His affinity to native thinkers and his propensity to mingle with his listeners helped him reach out to his students in a more indelible fashion than any typical teacher or professor could. As a researcher who actually delivered huge indigenous innovations, he came across as a creative teacher who posed not only challenging questions and laid out dreamy visions but also provided practical solutions.

Dr Kalam’s penchant for teaching can be best described only in his words. In an interview with The Hindu (, Dr Kalam said: “If the people remember me as a good teacher that will be the biggest honour for me”. He went on to say: “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual…youth have a dream and also they have a pain. The pain comes out of their dream; they want to live in a prosperous, happy and peaceful India. This type of student’s environment ignites me and leads me to interact with young minds”. His teaching was not confined to only to students; it enveloped all of his scientists and colleagues. The innumerable recounts of his colleagues testify to his dedication to on-the-job teaching. Dr Kalam’ life illustrates to us that persons in authority can touch the hearts and shape the minds of their team members only when they view themselves as teachers and coaches and not as managers and leaders.  

Soaring higher

In Dr Kalam one would always find an ardour for values and principles to improve quality of thought and life. He wrote in Wings of Fire: “Every child is born with some inherited characteristics, into a specific socio-economic and emotional environment, and trained in certain ways by figures of authority”. He goes on to write in his Wings of Fire how his father and mother with great family values, unschooled brothers with sharp native wisdom, his close friends from highly orthodox Hindu Bramhin families with secular bonding, and his Bramhin science teacher with great faith in his capabilities together shaped the positivity and creativity in his early life and enabled him to soar high. Probably all this made him more committed to be with children and inspire them constantly, almost as an essential call of duty.

His message to young people has been to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, courage to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. He was a firm believer in dreams, for he believed that dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts transform into actions. He was, all through his life, a leader who never chastised people for their mistakes but instead motivated them to learn from them for success. Unfortunately, however, most organizations and leaders are anti-theses of the principles of creativity and innovation. Leaders must focus on how they can bring out the potential by enabling them to think differently and creatively. A leader who encourages each of his team members to soar higher would be doing a yeoman service not only to the individual but to the organization and the society in the overall. 

NIP in expression

Dr Kalam may not have been a great orator as the term is popularly known. Yet, people, young and old, alike flocked to listen to him. His speeches had a characteristic nip, of a genuine Nationalist, a committed Integrator and a fervent Patriot. His addresses at events were simple but powerful expositions of the need to innovate for national good. Thanks to the passionate grit of K Raghavendra Rao, the Founder-CEO of Orchid Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals to have Dr Kalam inaugurate the new state-of-the-art sterile penicillin injectable medicines facility, Dr Kalam graced Orchid’s modern antibiotics complex in Sriperumbudur (near Chennai) in December 2005, inaugurated the facility and addressed the employees and other stakeholders. Dr Kalam, true to his self, went through the facility diligently and interacted with staff and management patiently. He applauded the modern technology that was deployed therein and exorted the scientists to integrate multiple technologies to discover and bring to market our own new drugs as a matter of national responsibility and national pride for India (a passion Orchid still stands for).  

Our former Statesman-Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who was instrumental in bringing Kalam as the President in 2002) wrote a preface to Kalam’s collection of poems titled The Life Tree (2003) wherein he stated that the confluence of scientific brilliance and poetic talent in Abdul Kalam was unique. He found the feelings of patriotism, love and faith that fill his expressions to be heartfelt. As the people of India, as individuals and leaders, work tirelessly in their professions they must, like Kalam, reflect and introspect on the larger purpose of life – a purpose that could make India a truly better place to live, and India a truly respected nation globally. As Kalam’s many accomplishments demonstrate these objectives are fulfilled only when Indians and India notch up tangible indigenous breakthroughs based on self-reliant scientific and technological development.


Despite all his mighty accomplishments and august office, Dr Kalam never let the trappings of scientific accomplishments and presidential office cloud his humble origins or erode his endearing demeanour. The Hindu in its Melange supplement today featured an article with a rhetorical and pertinent question “What made Kalam so beloved to ordinary people?”, which is another evocative read (  The article logically argued that it was because Dr Kalam personified hope backed by achievement that he was connected so universally with his people. The article also hypothesized that most Indians still have an idealistic streak that might yet be the making of us. The article concludes that it is this core that Kalam touched. The author of this blog post believes that Kalam has become a phenomenon of modern India because he never allowed himself to be insulated from others.

Leaders, indeed, have a great deal to learn from Kalam not only in terms of institutional building and developmental transformation but more in terms of the fundamental leadership responsibility of staying connected with people in a genuinely humble, simple and humane manner. As one climbs the ladder of successive accomplishments, the ground seems to get ever farther for most leaders! Economic accomplishment and social recognition on one hand and organizational structures and processes on the other make  leaders insulate themselves from the people and the ecosystems from which they originated. Leaders must learn to constantly de-insulate themselves in a thoughtful and constructive manner. Dr A P J Kalam became spontaneously loved because he interacted ceaselessly with people from all walks of life; his mighty achievements were secondary to him while his vision for an India of his dreams was primary for him. India will miss him!

Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 1, 2015