Saturday, December 6, 2008


Why can't we have better systems?, is a question most frequently asked by educated Indians out of sheer frustration at the way our systems function. Some of these educated Indians have been exposed to better systems in the west, and others have seen or heard about them in the media. Well, one thing is clear - we all agree that we need better systems. How do we get there is the next obvious question.
I believe, at the macro level there are two aspects to a system - the first is the most obvious, the design and implementation of the system and the second is the most important - the public acceptance of the system. We as a people generally show total apathy to any system, while living in India. I have seen Indians abroad meticulously follow all systems but once in India they tend to get back to their usual way. Their reasoning is that everyone else is doing it, so why not me? My question is 'what is the use of your exposure to better systems if you cannot help others less fortunate benefit from your experience, by leading the way'. What do I mean by this?
Let me start with an example. Lets take a mundane system like traffic lights. I live in Chennai and travel to other parts of the country too. The situation that I am going to describe is very nearly similar in all our cities. The traffic light system is installed to ensure that the traffic can flow smoothly & efficiently, and also to prevent accidents. In Chennai, I find that the traffic lights are world class with the added feature of time left for the light to change in a large LED display at most prominent cross roads. What is probably a design flaw is that the lights donot take into consideration the amount of traffic coming in from a particular direction, at various times of the day, leading to the red or green light remaining on for a period longer than required by the traffic. This problem is generally overcome by the traffic policeman controlling the lights manually depending on the quantum of traffic, specially during rush hours.
The other problem is that the lights continue with their red, green and amber pre-programmed sequence even during periods of minimal traffic, specially during the night hours. This causes most motorists to 'jump the light'. This is not desirable. All of us are aware of this part. Each one of us must have designed systems for our organisations or home. Did we take the time to study the specifications that the system should meet? Did we followup to ensure that the system is/ was periodically upgraded, depending on the usage pattern?
However, the other part is the more important and that is - how does the public respond to this system. Many a times I have been honked at, yelled at, while waiting at a red traffic light, sometimes by illiterate drivers, and sometimes by educated people. I never jump a traffic light. My family and friends joke about this and tell me that one day I am going to be run over by some one, while waiting for the light to turn green. I don't wish to change. I believe systems are made to be followed because otherwise no system will function, and we can keep complaining about the systems. I can reluctantly understand the illiterate driver honking, but find it absolutely ridiculous when educated people behave similarly. I thought education should help one understand things better, and also help one provide leadeship to our fellow citizens who are less fortunate than us. There are many nuances of how we jump the lights but that is not relevant to this post. There are many other systems like forming a queue - how many of us follow the queue - wait for our turn. These are just two mundane examples of systems in our daily life that we donot follow. There are many more besides these. However, to answer the question.
A system can only be as good as it's design and it's implementation, BUT more importantly, it can only function if we the people follow the system - whatever it be. In case the system does not meet the needs for which it is designed then as concerned tax paying citizens we need to take action to ensure that it is fixed, BUT short cutting the system is not prudent or desirable if we want to have better systems. Also, the more fortunate of us have to take the lead to instil public confidence in the systems that WE educated employed people have created, so that all citizens and our country benefits from better systems. It could be any system - the political system, the economic system, or the simple queue.


Balvinder Singh said...

This reminds me of an interesting incident that happened in Delhi once. A car was waiting at the red light and a blue line bus drove past while the bus driver stuck out his neck from the window and shouted jokingly at the car driver in chaste haryanavi "Abbey kya kabhee red light nahee dekhi" and then drove past the red signal. At that very moment another bus was coming from the right side at a great speed and this driver swung his bus in time to avert a major accident.

thearmyguyspeaks said...

Yes exactly... "leading the way" is absent...Truly wise post sir !

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: The incident that you narrated did not only happen 'once'. I am sitting in Delhi today and it is still happening. When will we learn to respect our systems?

thearmyguyspeaks: Thank you for your comment.

thearmyguyspeaks said...

Ohh sir !!! I am so sorry I never noticed your about me.!!! I was a air force optee...failed pilot..i decided not to give up on flying and join the paras...:)

do u know... Nirmal singh jamwal..from your NDA/air force days.. He is my mamaji >>..I thought maybe u know...

Salutes sir !

Smita said...

A Bang on Post...

That day I was talking to a senior colleague of mine, he was giving me gyan about what should be done and how the polticians should work.

When he stopped I asked him how was his driving license made. He said what difference does it make. I said none but please tell me u went & gave test for it or it cam at his home JLT. He finally said that it was later.

I told him point blank that he has no rights to ques anyone. If there are loopholes in system we should try to fill them not use them.

We need to change ourselves first before expecting the world around us to change.

Brilliant article.

Ajit said...

Good one.... and I do agree about the Traffic system in Chennai.... but on the other hand, I think it (driving sense) is a lot better than a few other places I have seen like Mumbai, Pune, Cochin, Bangalore.
Yes we Indians are true master of showing "Double Standards".
I believe that change will come only when each one of us realise that we need to change (including me).

Renu said...

very true, everybody sees minor violations everyday, and its very ridiculous but true that anybody sticking to rule is always ridiculed.

J P Joshi said...

thearmyguyspeaks: I always admired the para commandos. I wanted to do the para course, but my service said that we cannot have a pilot breaking his limbs - one pilot less for the IAF - for no other reason, but it takes a long time to train one. I had my wish fulfilled though, I ejected from a Hunter on fire, and out of control at 12000 ft.

I have heard of him. He was on MiG-23s, I believe. I am ex-NDA 41st/ India squadron. I believe your mamaji is 3rd battalion/ 43rd. Take care and God Bless.

J P Joshi said...

Smita: Thank you.

'We need to change ourselves first before expecting the world around us to change'. Agree with you 100%. I was really delighted to see your 'I promise'. I wish more of us educated people make this promise to ourselves.

Did you watch the conduct of the Indian Lok Sabha on tv yesterday (11 Dec 08)? I did. I could not have asked for a better parliamentary session. These are the same politicians we keep complaining and cursing. What changed?? WE changed - we were united in our condemnation of terrorism irrespective of religion, caste, etc. and the politicians changed too. Your statement above is so true.

J P Joshi said...

Ajit: Thank you for your comment. Yes, this is so true. 'I believe that change will come only when each one of us realise that we need to change (including me)'. My comment above is relevant.

Renu: Thank you for your comment. We all need to change the little things that are fairly easily achievable, and the big things will take care of themselves. I firmly believe that we the educated people of India have to lead the way, like we did in Mumbai, and we donot need to wait for some horrific incident to make this happen.

Smita said...

Ya I did watch the excerpt of the session. I just wish that these politicians are together on this for true.

BTW today's headlines were that there were only 10 politicians who attended the memorial of Parliamentary attack. Are the promises & their stand for keeps???

I wonder!!!!

But yes what was overwhelming was the united stand of the middle clas and the fact that dor the 1st time we came out to show our strength & stand...

thearmyguyspeaks said...

Yeah sir..He moved on to comman sukhoi later...

Ohh you had ur para experience after all..but well I am parajumping..but ill never get to fly heheh... !

Yes pilots are valuble sir.. !! Not everyone gets those wings!!

J P Joshi said...

Smita: I do hope that we the people can stay united so that our politicians can find no chink in our armour to go dividing us again on some emotive non-issue.

thearmyguyspeaks: It sure is a small world. You take care. I can only visualise what you are doing and I know for sure that it is vital for our nation's security. Just for you information - Last thursday I finally said good bye to my flying career, when I was declared permanently medically unfit for flying. So that is the end of one exciting chapter of my life. Nothing is forever, I guess. God bless.

Samby said...

It can only be a armed forces guy to take that positively sir!!


Usha Pisharody said...

The other day a few months ago, actually, we had a session in school, a sort of work shop on Attitude Training and Management, in the hope, I guess, that some of it would pass down to the next generation as well.

An interesting query that arose, while we spoke of obstacles and difficulties we faced in the institution and the profession, referred to the "system of education". The resource person, Mr C K Suresh, handled that so deftly when he said that it's easy to blame the system, but are we doing something about it? Are we proactive enough to want to change it? Can we actually make a difference by getting together and making a beginning? It does start with the individual, and then the effect must ripple out.

And if systems that are in place, which work, are not followed, there should be no complaint from those quarters that refuse to follow it.

The systems planning and implementation has to be followed up, reviewed and modified. That again involves a lot of involvement on the part of all the users of the system too!

I really found this post to be one that provokes one's thinking and reviewing and makes one want to make that difference!

Thank you Sir.

Incidentally, I happened to show your blog to my elder son, who was indeed very impressed and rather delighted to have found that you belonged to India Squadron, for very obvious reasons :) He's 113 India :)

J P Joshi said...

Usha Pisharody: Agree with you - "it's easy to blame the system, but are we doing something about it? Are we proactive enough to want to change it? Can we actually make a difference by getting together and making a beginning? It does start with the individual, and then the effect must ripple out".

I do feel good that you found it worth your while to read, and contemplate on the message. People are very perceptive - they are ready to follow if you give the lead. This afternoon at the post office there were six people in a huddle around the counter. I just asked a simple question as to 'was there a queue'? Yes. 'Who is the last person'? I got behind the last person and suddenly there was a queue ahead of, and behind me.

Yes, we did exchange an email each. You know, when i was a cadet in the same squadron, we would hide when we saw some one as ancient as myself relative to Arjun. I am impressed that he did email me. The credit should go to the parents too, besides him of course.