Alpana Parida: Why Sania Lost…

01 Feb,2017

By Alpana Parida


When the lady commentator said of Sania Mirza during the Australian Open Mixed Doubles Finals that Indian players tend to be strong with their hands but not very dexterous with their feet, I had to bite back the typically defensive Indian anger and reaction to acknowledge the truth of her statement. From lazy fielders to slow on their feet players on courts, Indians are not as dexterous with their feet. Cricket is replete with stories of great batsmen who would hit big to avoid running between wickets. The newer generation is running and fielding better – and whenever they do, we recognise this as unusual behaviour that needs to be lauded as such.


Our cultural mindset does not allow us to celebrate physical exertion of any kind, across society and demographics. Indians use a record number of wheelchairs (one mortifying flight from Mumbai on Emirates had a total of 62 wheelchair-bound passengers!), The Brahmins were the high caste of thinkers and the doers were lower down the order of castes. That has permeated our collective consciousness so deeply that I recently watched a strapping young man flying business class, using airline staff to carry his suitcase while he walked up the stairs in uncreased linen. Never mind that the porter was older and emaciated. And never mind that his bulging pectorals made evident his decision to be not one of inability but of iniquity.


As I write this column, Roger Federer has just won the Australian Open, defeating an evenly matched Rafael Nadal. Winning is a lot of hard work. It cannot be simply a preference of clever shots and a strong backhand. Without picking and choosing what kind of work you will or will not do, doing whatever it takes to get there has to be a mindset. It is not just the training or the nutrition or the winning spirit or lack of. We simply do not have the mindset where hard work, particularly physical work, is seen as being necessary. I meet young people who say they are only interested in strategy. They have no interest in rolling up their sleeves and actually execute strategy as well as ensure intelligence in the execution. The checking of copy, the ensuring of accuracy and timeliness in delivery, and heaven forbid – the raising of an invoice and chasing up a payment that pays for our salaries and rent– are seen as the worst kind of jobs.Somewhere in that picking and choosing of work (“at this stage in my career, this is not the kind of work I should be doing”), we miss the whole. We compartmentalise and miss larger goals. We miss the opportunity to understand how things work. And why things fail. And what creates success and impact.


I remember travelling to Bengaluru on work with a much younger colleague. We had gone for a day – and next morning, I was down with my overnighter checking out, with no signs of my young colleague half my age. When I finally called him – he explained that he was waiting for a porter to fetch his overnight handbag, and that was delaying him. It simply did not occur to him that he could bring it down himself.


All our work comes attached with judgmental values and defines who’s who. Men can’t do laundry and cooks won’t clean the house, executives will not pack boxes with samples and while writing this paragraph -  our driver – sulking to be asked to clean the car interiors, objected to the cleaning cloth being given to him. It was not the yellow cloth that made the cleaning respectable. It was not his job anyways.


The gap in India, between thinking and doing is wider than most other countries I have seen. I remember seeing a sign at a Social Security Office in Westchester, New York recognizing a clerk who found a way to reduce the length of a line. It is only when you bring intelligence to work that you can bring improvements and eventually impact outcomes.  For a country that has such a large intelligentsia, we have distinctly unintelligent processes for the most part. That is because, whoever thinks of a process, never engages enough on actually implementing it, and thus there are no process improvements. It is what it is. And we live with the sub-optimal, stupid and inefficient in most part.


Hopefully, the startup generation will do things differently and bring more intelligence to our everyday and to our everything.


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