Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kissan Konfessions

Pardon the Karanesque alliteration, but deep down inside all of us are kissans, aren’t we? Nope, I am not referring to the ketchup and jam company that HUL owns and Jammy’s father used to work for – and I am definitely not referring to Sohail's flick 'starring' Arbaaz (dudes please retire and spare us all) but to the noble agrarian profession that makes the most significant contribution to our Bharatiya GDP.

Let’s wind back the clock to about 3 million years ago when mankind has lived by carrying out two basic acitivities of hunting (or fishing) and gathering edible items of any kind (from fruit to insects). ‘Twas the glorious age of the Neanderthal hunter-gatherers that continued for the next 2.9 million years. Then, a mere 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic Revolution happened and mankind discovered how to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals. This was arguably the most significant single development in human history.

The earliest place known to have lived mainly from the cultivation of crops is Jericho. By around 8000 BC this community, occupying a naturally well-watered region, was growing selected forms of wheat, soon to be followed by barley. Another 4000 years, sheep became the first animals to be domesticated as a source of food in the Middle East. It was indeed one small step for man, one giant step for maah-nkind…

Fast forward to 1997 and the world saw the dawn of a new age - The Age of Empires (AOE). (Since then, seven titles and three spin-offs have been released and the series has been a commercial success, selling over 20 million copies!) The titles are historical real-time strategy games, and their gameplay basically revolves around the activities detailed above and man’s natural need for bloodshed and conquest.

Just over a decade later, riding on the wave of web-fuelled social networking, Zynga released Farmville (FV) in June 2009. For those who came in late, FV is a real-time farm simulation game developed by Zynga, available as an application on the social networking website Facebook (FB). The game allows members of FB to manage a virtual farm by planting, growing and harvesting virtual crops and trees, and raising livestock. Little wonder that has become the most popular game application on FB, with over 82.4 million active users and over 23.1 million fans in March 2010. (Yours truly being both.)

So why is FV such a runaway success? Here is what I think:

1. It addresses man’s 2 basic wants – greed and the need to play AOE.

2. Man’s evolution is not linear as Charles Darwin suggests, but a cyclic phenomenon and FV lets us go back in time to our primal needs of being simple kissans / farmers.

3. It sure beats watching bovine contestants on inane reality shows on the idiot box – I would rather watch pumpkins grow on my farm.

4. It is a great way to learn about complex subjects such as biology and economics – for instance, I now know that grapes cost 85 coins / plot to plant and are ready to harvest in 1 day, to yield 285 coins! So I am ready if the world as we know it comes to an end and we have to go back to nature.

5. FV closely replicates real life – just as in life, in FV too you have all sorts of neighbours: those whom you have never met / never want to, those you know but wished you didn’t, your friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, and whats-his-name? – FV teaches you how to prosper by co-existing with all of them.

6. It complies with our core Indian values – the most respected member of Indian polity is the son of the soil… the kissan child of Mother India. Without their tireless toil, we would not be able to feed a billion (ok half a billion – the remaining population are below the poverty line anyway) mouths. Sadly, some of us have to wear ties to work and turn our back to the noble profession. FV ensures that even if we can’t slog it out tilling our fields, we can at least click our farm plots and redeem our guilt.

7. Even in the most happening cities such as Mumbai, it is a common sight each morning to see devout Hindus feed gow-matas at street corners everyday… Sadly, being invariably late on most days, I can’t stop to participate in this holy activity – FV to the rescue and I can feed my cows whenever I log on!

8. FV promotes CSR – better than buying soap with the promise that the capitalist multinational will plant a tree on my behalf, I can plant as many trees of infinite varieties whenever I want!

9. George Orwell's Animal Farm has left a indelible imprint on the world.

10. As did Pink Floyd's classic Animals featuring tracks such as Pigs on the Wings and Sheep!

11. It is bloody addictive…

So play on… Jai Jawan! Jai Kissan! Jai Ho!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Circular Reference

I am fairly certain that a regular user (or abuser?!) of the ubiquitous spreadsheet software, must have seen the above warning message at least once. The help file further elucidates: “A circular reference can have a significant impact on performance because it can iterate indefinitely.”

Blame it on my lack of excitement all day or call me a profundity junkie, but one late March evening, something struck me. With the dreaded 31st approaching (the absolute worst day in the year for a relationship manager… no wonder it is the mirror image of 13!), and having had all holidays cancelled for the month (haven’t my bosses heard that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…? But then my name is not Jack, though come to think of it – I should maybe consider changing it to that for more often than not, I do get jacked by boss!) after having plugged away at my spreadsheet all day, one wrong move and the software spat out the warning message illustrated above.

It was nearly time for the civilized world to call it a night, and given the spew of long days in the recent past, I got pretty agitated. And then I had an aha moment (pardon the jargon – an unwanted side effect of my MBA education!). Isn’t our lives exactly what the message warns of?
Allow me to elucidate. The basic formula in life is that we make mistakes and look for redemption. And we do this each time we come across a whiff of a new start – make resolutions each time the earth completes its annual revolution around the sun, pray for prosperity and peace every bishu / diwali / nabo barsho / gudi padwa / etc. (based on which part of India you come from), hope to do better at the turn of each financial year (whether you want or not, the targets keep coming!), plan to quit smoking / start gymming each time your birthday comes across… you get the idea.

But, what happens when the day passes and you get a year older and wiser? I am willing to bet my bonus (I must resolve to give up gambling next time Diwali comes along!) , that the answer is: back to status quo and the cycle continues. Thus life’s formula keeps going through a vicious circular reference. And yes, this circular reference does have a significant impact on our performance because it does iterate indefinitely… just like ol’ Bill’s software warns!

Too bad, God did not factor in the warning message in life! We could have at least been able to click OK and then gone back to doing what we do anyway…