How to interview your interviewer … or … do you really want to work for this idiot?

Now that I’m out of the corporate world, let me share some wisdom from my slavery days.

Corporate life is nothing more than glorified slavery. Over thirty years, I’ve seen it all. Sleaze, politics, tears, exploitation, lies, anger, depression, betrayal, divorce. I saw it all. And I walked out.

Still, if you need a job, you need a job. You have a family to feed and a career to manage, and you’re willing to do what it takes. Fair enough.

The least you can do is to avoid getting into a bad company, especially on your first job. When one is fresh out of college and desperately seeking a job, it is easy to fall into the wrong company. Believe me, a bad first job will haunt you through your career.

Before the interview:

1) Ignore all those buffoons who offer expensive training courses on “interview skills”. You don’t need them. All you need are your qualifications and your sincerity. The best and most effective interview skill is – Be yourself.

2) Do your homework. Read everything you can about the company. Don’t be deceived by the apparent size of the company. A small but well-managed company will be a far better employer than a large, glamorous MNC with a dubious reputation.

Remember, “Yatha Raja, thatha praja“. As is the King, so are his subjects. If the company’s promoters are rogues, you can’t expect your future boss to be any different.

3) Always reconfirm the interview date and time. And do this immediately. If you delay, the interview will go to someone else.

4) Always be on the dot of time. And remember to consider the time it will take to complete your entry formalities at the gate and the wait for the elevator. If you are delayed for some reason (and the only acceptable reasons are an earthquake or a public riot), then always call up and explain yourself.

5) Always dress conservatively for an interview. First impressions always matter. Always.

At the interview: The classical warning signs: 

1) The watchmen at the entry-gate:  A rude watchman is a sure sign of a stingy company that doesn’t care about its visitors or employees.

2) The front desk: The receptionist is the public face of the company. She (it’s usually a she) is expected to be friendly and helpful. A disgruntled receptionist is a classic symptom of a sick company. Don’t be fooled by a dazzling smile or an equally dazzling cleavage. If the receptionist is unhappy you can always tell by her body language. In particular, watch how she talks to salespeople and job-seekers, and how she answers the phones.

3) The waiting time: If you are kept waiting at the front desk, then beware. This means your interviewer is either a bad time-manager or he’s deliberately making you wait just to rattle you. Either way, it’s a bad company to work in.

4) The dumb questions:

These classically idiotic questions are asked by classical idiots who don’t know how to conduct an interview.

a) “Tell me about yourself”.

Really? Even in this century, there are people who start an interview with this ridiculous question. Actually, I’ve asked this question too. That’s because I was a classical idiot too, once upon a time. Apparently, there’s an esoteric psychological reason behind this asinine question. Whatever. It’s still a question that insults the applicant’s intelligence.

The polite response to this question is that all you have to say about yourself is in the résumé that the interviewer already has. If he wants any specific information outside the résumé, he is welcome to ask a specific question.

b) “Why do you want to work for this company?”.  Another foolish question.

Which is followed by another foolish question, “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”.

The correct answer, but the answer no one likes – Your company is better than my current company.

For a first-timer, this question is sometimes asked to see if he knows something about the company. The correct and polite form of the question then, is “Can you tell us what you know about our company?”.

The intelligent answer is, “Yes I can”.  And then give a concise analysis of the company’s history, current financial reports, research activities, reputation in the outside world, and the like. A short, sweet and sincere report that shows you know your way around the Internet and that you are serious about whom you work for.

If your interviewer has any common-sense, he will offer you the job on the spot.

c) “Where do you see yourself five (or ten) years from now?”.

This is the uncrowned king of foolish interview questions. What am I supposed to answer it with? I’ll be the president of the company, I’ll be your boss, I’ll be your son-in-law, I’ll be successful and happy, I’ll…what?

There is one correct answer: Five years from now, I will be five years older.

c) “How soon can you join?”

The question asked by a fool. Obviously, an employed person has to serve his current employer a month’s notice, at least. If your interviewer doesn’t care about this, he is the wrong person to be your boss.

Even if you are a fresher and are desperate for that first job, don’t say you will join tomorrow morning. Tell them you need a week to wind up whatever personal obligations you have. Take that week to study the job offer thoroughly and understand its legal implications.

d) “When will you get married?”.   Or worse, “How come you’re not married?”

No matter which gender you are, there is one appropriate response. Walk out.

e) “Why did you get divorced?”.  Same answer as above.

f) “What salary do you expect?”

Frequently asked by idiots in order to confuse freshers.

A well-managed company will always disclose its emoluments to fresh graduates – instead of playing guessing games with nervous applicants.

The intelligent answer is, “I believe the normal salary for this post in reputed companies is about Rs.xxx. Of course, if your company pays more than this, I would not mind!”

h) “Can you give me one reason why I should hire you?”.

This bombastic query is meant only to demean you. The appropriate answer is – Eff you.

Since you can’t use those exact words, the next best answer is, “I’m sorry. I do not understand the question. Since you invited me for this interview only after studying my résumé, I had the impression that my qualifications and experience were directly relevant to your company’s needs. Am I to understand that this is not actually the case?”.

Usually, the interviewer gets confused and loses his cool. If this happens, you are looking at the wrong employer. Smile and leave.

It’s just an interview, for heaven’s sake. It’s not an inquisition. The purpose of which is to see if you and your potential employer are compatible and want the same things – not to make you feel like dung.

Two other classical warning signs: 

  • How your interviewer talks to his subordinates. Especially to the person who serves you refreshments during the interview. If they don’t have the courtesy to offer you refreshments, that’s another warning sign!
  • An interviewer who talks about himself, and little else.

A person who talks too much about himself and talks down to people under him is the most avoidable boss in the corporate world.

You can always tell a good company from a bad one. There’s a happy air about a well-managed company, that you can sense as soon as you enter. Noisy, cheerful chatter is a good sign. Sullen silence is not.

For a fresher, that first job is worth waiting for. Better that you remain unemployed for a few weeks, than join a bad company and regret it, as I did with my first job and several jobs thereafter.

The same wisdom applies to marriage, as I found out the hard way.

Cheers … SKS

 

The last days of Kokkrebellur.

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Once upon a time, there was this happy place called Kokkrebellur. Once upon a time.

Now, this age-old nesting site for the endemic Painted stork has become another casualty of human greed.

In Kannada, the word “kokkre”  means stork. The very name of this village is derived from the storks that come here every February to breed. It is believed that this location has been the nesting ground for the Painted stork since a thousand years.

kbellur-02763It has taken Homo sapiens less than a decade to ruin it.

What else do you expect from the most destructive species on the planet? Microwave towers, loudspeakers blaring, massive old trees chopped down, waterbodies gone dry, illegal sand mining, heaps of garbage  – no effort has been spared to screw up Kokkrebellur as only humans can.

Once, there was a grove of Mahua trees that was three centuries old, and housed dozens of mating Indian grey hornbills and a hundred other species. Now there are charred stumps. And an illegal function hall in its place. Littered with discarded bottles, plastic, rotting food and all the usual shit that humans like to throw around. DSC02601

I’ve written at length about Kokkrebellur in an earlier blogpost, written in the days when there was something to write about this unique village in Maddur district. But now there’s nothing left at Kokkrebellur to write about. The storks and pelicans have arrived this year too, but each year their numbers dwindle.

The Kabini river that provides sustenance to these great birds has gone totally dry. There are fewer trees to nest on, more vehicles, much more competition for what little space and resources are available.

Eventually, the storks will simply fly off to a better place.

When the Kokkre is gone from Kokkrebellur, then what?

SKS

Melukote. No cleanliness. No Godliness.

 

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Cows, dogs, hawkers, shops, cars, garbage. Where is the room for God?

What the eff am I doing here, I ask myself as I trudge barefoot in the heat, through the filthiest temple town I have been in.

This is Melukote. Global hub of Shri Vaishanavism, second only to Sriperumbudur in importance. A world-renowned center for Sanskrit learning. The scriptures say that Rama and Krishna themselves worshipped the ancient deity here. The temples you see today are a thousand years old, built stone by stone by Shri Ramanuja and his disciples.

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To visit temple, just follow the garbage.

This is Melukote. And it is filthy.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, we are told. If that is true, then please be assured that God would keep His distance from Melukote.

Due to my being born a Thenkalai, I am a follower, albeit a reluctant one, of Shri Ramanuja and a Shrivaishanavite by default. Melukote is therefore “my” place. Each year, I find myself drawn to this place. And year after year, I find myself being repelled by the general filthiness. This year, the filthiness was just intolerable.

The history of Melukote is truly Vedic. The temples are merely ten centuries old. The primary deity here, Cheluvanarayanaswamy or Thirunarayana, has been worshipped at this place since the time of Rama. After the long-lost metal idol was rediscovered by Shri Ramanuja in 1100 or so, Melukote was heavily patronised by the Hoysalas, the Wodeyars, even by Tipu Sultan, and in modern times, by Shrivaishnavites across the world and by all other sects. With all that patronage, past and present, there is no excuse whatsoever for Melukote’s current state.

It’s not a question of money. There is no shortage of money, I have no doubt. It’s not a question of government support. You need neither money nor political support just to be clean. It’s a question of attitude and it’s a question of arrogance.

At no other major shrine have I seen cars parked right at the temple walls, nowhere else have I seen so many hawkers peddling their wares so close to the main temple. No where else have I seen garbage so carelessly strewn about. Sullen watchmen at the gates and sundry people expecting money at every nook are common features in all temples. One expects Melukote to be different, but no. One is totally wrong. Give me twenty rupees, insists an elderly priest inside the temple, and I tamely hand over the money, not due to piety, but due to pity.

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Don’t worry. It’s a “protected” monument.

My visit there yesterday coincided with an “abhishekam” of Ramanuja’s idol. The term “abhishekam” means a ritualistic libation of  a religious idol with various sanctified liquids like milk, ghee, honey, sandal paste and others.

There were innumerable Iyengar mamas and mamis inside, in traditional vestis and 9-yard sarees respectively. Technically, I am an Iyengar mama too, and I ought to have been in a vesti too. But my priorities are crystal clear.

Cleanliness first. Godliness next. Hygiene first. Spirituality next. Sanctity of body first. Purity of mind next.

Three years ago, my elderly mother ate the food here, came back that evening to Bangalore with acute gastroentiritis and had to spend a full week at Fortis hospital. That horrible week comes back to my memory, and I bluntly turn down the offers of puliogare and annadana that I am plied with.

History and divinity both get buried under the filth of Melukote.

As a Shrivaishnavite, I am not just angry. I am filled with a cold rage as I make my way through this ancient town. In vain do I tell myself that Rama and Krishna might have walked down the same lanes that I walk now, and that Shri Ramanuja definitely did. All I can see are the piles of garbage, the plastic bottles everywhere, the stray dogs, the hawkers, the growling monkeys – and the devotees who create all this filth by tolerating it and worse, by patronising it.

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The ancient Kalyani (water tank). This is the only angle from which the garbage is not visible.

Enough. I call up the driver (who is of course parked right next to the temple wall) and we make our way back to the Garbage city, also known as Bangalore.

Garbage outside. Junk inside.

The newly laid road from Mandya to Melukote provides little consolation, since I’ve seen the hundreds of old trees that once stood on either side of that road, and were butchered for no reason.

In comparison, Tipu’s tomb in Srirangapatnam is a pleasure to see. Gumbaz is immaculately maintained, and more important, it is clean. There’s no entry fee although there is a stiff parking fee – but no parking lot. The outside is no doubt dirty and hawker-infested. But the inside is just the opposite. Manicured lawns, old trees that date back to Tipu, and the tomb itself is shining white – and clean.

So. This is “my” Melukote. I don’t feel good, I feel ripped off. I don’t feel sanctified, I feel dirty. I am not filled with spirituality and enlightenment, I am filled with dark anger.

Next time I feel the desire to commune with God, I won’t take the expense to hire a cab and drive 150 kms through dense traffic to end up at a place that is filthier than the urban slum I live in.

I’ll either visit the small temple at my street corner, which is far cleaner, or just stay at home and visit Wikipedia, which is far safer.

Absolutely no cheers … Srini.

Herbs can cure. Herbs can kill.

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Centella asiatica, better known as Brahmi.

Medicinal plants are useful. Indeed, many modern drugs have been derived from plants.

However, there is far too much quackery in herbal medicine. Far too many rogues. Far too many “scientists” with dubious PhD degrees from cut-rate institutes. Far too many self-styled experts.

Here’s how the quacks and the “scientists” will con you:

1) “It’s herbal. No side-effects”.

Bullshit. This is an utter lie. If any herbalist tells you this, no matter how many PhD degrees he has, please run. Run far and run fast. Only a genuine quack would make this claim. The belief that herbs do not have side-effects is the most common and most dangerous myth out there.

Reality check: Most plants are toxic to humans. Very few of them are edible, and very very few of them are useful as medicines. By “useful” one does not mean that these few herbs are harmless. Far from it. There is no such thing as a safe herb. Doesn’t exist.

2) “It’s time-tested, over centuries, over thousands of years, used by millions of people. Do you think millions of people across the world are fools”?

Again, bullshit.

Just because a herb has been used by millions of people over thousands of years, that still does not mean that the stuff is safe.

As an example, here’s a very popular herb that has been in use since 6000 BC. It has been in continuous use since eight thousand years. WHO says that across the world, one billion people consume it several times a day, every single day. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population. The herb provides a living to millions of farmers world-wide. Trans-national corporations have built their multi-billion dollar empires because of it. Wars have been fought over it.

How can such a herb be anything but safe and useful? Do you think that one billion people across the world are fools? The answer is YES. Because the herb we are talking about is TOBACCO.

See what I mean?

3) “It’s guaranteed”.

Of course it’s guaranteed. So is a visit to the hospital.

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Noni. Medicinal value = Zero!

“Guaranteed” is not a scientific term. You will not find the word “guaranteed” in any peer-reviewed scientific publication. This word is specifically used by door-to-door salesmen, by street-side peddlers, by snake-oil merchants, by smooth talkers in expensive suits with MBA degrees hanging on their walls – and by certain “scientists”.

If the herb has been studied by real scientists using accepted methods of science, written about in research papers that have been critiqued by other scientists, and then approved for use by national-level regulatory agencies, there would no need to “guarantee” its safety and efficacy.

4) “It’s a gift to mankind from Mother Nature and/or God. How dare you question Mother Nature and/or God? What are you, an atheist?”

I love this argument. Herbalists and “scientists” throw these phrases at me all the time. As if it is blasphemy to use one’s common sense.

Plants, like all other life-forms, have evolved over a few billion years into what they are today. Do you really think they exist for your sole benefit? Plants produce phytochemicals for their own use, for their own survival, for their own metabolism needs. Not for you. Any effect those phytochemicals may have on your body is totally co-incidental.

Do you really think any plant on this earth cares about your diabetes or blood pressure or your cholesterol or your dysfunctional dick? Plants do not get diabetes. Why would any plant produce phytochemicals to treat your diabetes, then? Ever thought about that?

As I said, these effects on your body are entirely co-incidental. Be thankful for that co-incidence. But don’t believe everything you hear or read. Be thoroughly skeptical.

5) “Several published studies have proven that…”, “The latest research shows that …”

This is a dangerous trap, that deceives even qualified people. It’s called Argument from Authority. To quote Wikipedia, this is a “logical fallacy that argues that a position is true or more likely to be true because an authority or authorities agree with it”.

What it means in simple terms is that people will believe anything they hear from someone who looks like an authority. And this is exactly where the catch is. How do you know that the quoted authority is really an authority? How do you know the scientific journal that published that research study is in fact a reputable journal? How do you know the research study is itself not a total fake?

A large number of research papers published from India are either outright fakes or riddled with dubious data, erroneous results and unreliable conclusions. Many “reputable” journals are published by semi-literate nitwits operating out of their homes. Any body with a PC and an internet connection can create a scientific journal with an impressive name. Mind you, anybody.

Forty two percent of the world’s fake scientific journals originate from India. Did you know that?

If I were to tell you that my research study was published in The International Journal of Advanced Herbal Medicine and Plant Science, you would be suitably impressed. Except that this journal does not exist. I thought it up just now.

The real question you should be asking is, who sponsored that research study? If a research study on a herbal product is sponsored by the manufacturer himself, do you really think it will be totally honest and unbiased? Really?

6) “That eminent scientist and his fellow eminent scientists have set up an international research foundation for this herb. Do you mean to say those eminent scientists are liars”?

Yes, sometimes they are.

Adolf Hitler recruited one hundred physicists, including Nobel laureates, to write a book refuting Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein’s only response to that book was, “Why one hundred? If I am wrong, just one would have been enough”.

Just because a whole bunch of “scientists” gets together and says the same thing, it does not always mean they are correct – or telling the truth. Many such research foundations that have been set up by such “scientists” are sponsored by companies with a strong profit motive.

In fact, the more the number of “eminent” scientists involved in a research foundation, the more skeptical you should be about what they’re telling you.

7) “No need for “allopathic” medicines. They are poisonous chemicals. Stop all chemicals, and use only my herbs”.

Yeah sure. Please write up your will before you do that. Phytochemicals are chemicals too. And they are just as toxic as any other chemical, if not more.

Get this into your head. Pharmaceutical companies make drugs specifically for you, designed for your ailments, tested for you, certified as safe for you. And they spend millions of dollars and many many years to bring those life-saving medicines to you.

Plants do not produce phytochemicals for you. They don’t care about you and your multiple ailments. They do not even know you exist.

Got the picture?

As I said before, a few herbs found in nature are certainly useful. Only very few of them. If you do want to use herbs for your health, please do so. But talk to the right people, get your facts right, and use your own judgement.

Do not ever take herbal remedies along with your regular medicine. Ever. Even a simple condiment like turmeric interferes with many life-saving drugs.

And do not ever, ever stop taking your regular medicine, without talking to a real doctor first.

Mother Nature has not made plants for your exclusive benefit.

Mother Nature, however, has definitely given you something for your exclusive benefit. It’s called a brain. Use it.

Cheers … Srini.

Neralu. Only questions. No answers.

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For the third time, I set aside a weekend to attend Neralu, Bangalore’s annual tree festival. And for the third time, I came back with some nice pictures – and little else.

neralu-1-9Neralu, like other such “celebrations” of Nature, has a lot of passion, enthusiastic volunteers, energetic workshops, the usual collection of grey-headed academics and assorted “experts”, and the mandatory music concert accompanied by lusty applause and thunderous foot-stomping.

The primary reason for carting myself across the city through all the traffic (even on a Sunday) was the talk delivered by Dr Harini Nagendra. Turned out to be a disappointment. The title of the talk was itself misleading, the content was nothing new and its conclusion was hardly inspirational. One expects a lecture by a qualified ecologist of her repute to be considerably better than what one can learn from Wikipedia.

That Bangalore’s current state is alarming, is already well known. Bangalore’s ecological history is also well known, at least to me. And I’m not even an ecologist, mind you. What one is really concerned about is Bangalore’s ecological future. This was the one question that I posed to her that Dr Harini would not answer.

Her evasiveness on the question served to confirm what I have long known – that Bangalore’s doom is all but inevitable. To my mind, Doom is already here.

The cyber-talk on plant evolution that followed, delivered via skype (or whatever) by Pranay Lal was equally pedantic. It may be fascinating to learn that dinosaurs once ruled the Deccan and feasted on cycads during the Mesozoic, but the questions that trouble those of us who live in the Cenozoic remain unanswered. DSC00613.jpgNothing wrong in an author trying to promoting his book through a lecture, but in this instance, I do not think the purpose was served.

What I did like was the tree-walk at Krishna Rao park conducted by Narayan, Divya and Srikanth. And I did enjoy the workshop conducted by Charumati Supraja. These are nice, unpretentious folk with a genuine fondness for trees.neralu-1-4.JPG

The evening musical performance was, well, passable. One cannot doubt the musical know-how of Bindumalini Narayanaswamy and Vasu Dixit. What one looks for though, is clean melody, a sweetness of voice, that sincerity of sound that pleases the ear and thrills the heart. The raucous support from their fans in the audience notwithstanding, this rare quality is missing from their music. This is what separates the good from the great. One hopes that this singular quality will develop in this couple’s music over time.

A professional music critic I am not. I am not even a bathroom singer, I am that bad. But I did learn a thing or two from a lifetime of listening to real musicians (like my mother) and I did learn something directly from Dr Balamuralikrishna himself, whom I once met in my childhood, that all music is Carnatic music, because Carnatic music is nothing more than “Karnau madhura”.  That which pleases the ears, that alone is Carnatic music.

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Passion, enthusiasm, concern, anguish, energy, so much youth.

But, no answers.

That is because Neralu, like other eco-movements in the city,  has all other emotions, except the one emotion that matters.

Rage.

Cheers … Srini.