Back to our ghettos: Why leaders should change first.

Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi once told me: “At the end of the day, we all get back to our ghettos…the white ghettos, the brown ghettos, the black ghettos…” Gandhi was talking about how our rugged individualistic culture takes us back to our own isolated spaces, the ghettos we’ve built for ourselves.

Meanwhile, corporate America is investing billions in promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) without understanding that a 400-year-old problem cannot be solved overnight.

The historical trauma of racism and systemic inequality cannot be wiped off with a magic eraser.

“The only way leaders are going to combat racism in their organizations is if they literally make combatting racism a lifestyle —as habitual as a morning cup of coffee,” says Andre’s Tapia, Senior Client Partner, Global DE&I Strategist at Korn Ferry.

Tapia makes a valid point. Few corporate leaders know where the inner city is, and very few have taken the time to understand people from different cultures. However, their companies have invested in anything from backpacks to painting walls to show feel-good corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The old saying: “People, Planet and Profits” could now add DE&I in the mix as it has outpaced sustainability as a key goal for corporations.

Yet, knowing about nan & curry doesn’t let you understand the underpinnings of the world’s largest democracy, India, and neither does eating falafel make you feel the richness of Middle Eastern culture.

“When leaders make combatting racism part of their lifestyle, they’ll never lose focus on creating an inclusive organization. It will define their philosophy on how to approach revenues, innovation, marketing, finance, developing talent, and everything else. It will shape the way they lead,” Tapias says.

How many leaders are doing that? How many are making concerted efforts to spend time and understand the experiences of their employees from people of color to LGBTQ employees?

The lingo of DE&I is alien to many corporate leaders in America but the DE&I checkbox has been in existence for several decades. After all, don’t we invest in political correctness every day?

Leaders must invest time in learning, understanding and building relationships with people of color and marginalized groups. Otherwise, companies will be investing in more DE&I consultants showing more PowerPoints about unconscious bias.

It’s time leaders understand their cultural identity first and start leading with empathy and humility. And, the time is now.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making decisions.

India’s most beautiful, most literate, bans alcohol

photo 1
Life in Kerala after 6:30 p.m. Half of us prefer to walk straight, the rest are going…going….

I grew up in Kerala, India’s most literate, most beautiful, most cynical and most alcoholic state. Half of us walk straight after 6:30 p.m. while the rest prefer being slanted. Over the last few years, most of us prefer being slanted after getting drunk at exactly 6:30 p.m.

Why 6:30 p.m.? This is because a lot of us  are jobless (three times the national average) and we have chosen a fixed time of the day to ask our friends about our next drink. Our own, patented and self-created happy hour begins at 6:30 p.m. and we are so knowledgeable that our conversations are not just about local happenings.

We are the most literate in India that we can talk about the Middle East peace process better than the average American who would most likely think that Gaza is  an exotic candy. In fact, we can advise Obama on how to solve Syria, deal with Netanyahu (who most of his countrymen won’t know) and help him fix most of the world’s biggest problems. All, for a drink after 6:30 p.m.

Just to clarify, we are not just the most literate, we are India’s most cynical as well. Our mornings are filled with rich content and on average, we religiously read three newspapers and watch over a dozen television channels giving us great insight on what’s happening in the world. We are a very literate society, too literate that we have forgotten to understand our own problems.

So, you may ask what is our biggest problem? Well, after 6:30 p.m., a lot of our brothers and sisters have to get drunk. I mean, we think beer and wine are for babies. We prefer pure spirit (60% plus) and adore rum and brandy. In fact, a quarter of our State’s revenues (one billion dollars annually) comes from our methodical, disciplined and globally patented consumption of alcohol at 6:30 p.m.

We have made tourists so happy that we bring in more tourism in India than any other state. Our drunken state has created innovations in healthcare so much so that we have lots of hospitals focusing on one organ, the liver.

Drinking is a family affair for us. Our children taste spirit when they are just over 13 and we beat the rest of India here too. Most Punjabi kids begin at 17, but being so literate we have to stay ahead of the game. In fact, we had a nine-year-old get so drunk from his dad’s whiskey that he finally died.

I grew up in Kerala and I know a primary reason why the State loves alcohol. The climate, the culture and our exotic cuisine pairs up with any drink in the world. Moreover, we let pseudo-communists and pseudo-capitalists rule us every four years, keeping us in the same drunken state in Olympic years.

Most of our youth are unemployed and they are pampered with remittances from the Persian Gulf or elsewhere. This inflow prompts us to  spend on alcohol. And we love the world so much that we have to imitate the West and exceed their expectations on drinking.

I was in Kerala in late June this year and struck up a conversation with a senior police officer. Within ten minutes, he opened up a half drunk bottle of rum saying that he was happy he got his morning fix. And, mind you, the sun had just risen. By 6:30 p.m. he would have gobbled at least six to ten shots as a warm up to his sunset in God’s own country.

Irrespective of gender and social strata, Keralites have started taking to alcohol so much that hospitals are flooded with people facing health issues from grapes in their livers (cirrhosis) to depression and suicidal tendencies. Finally, our government has woken up and has started a phased ban on alcohol.

Our media actively promotes it but after 6:30 p.m., sadly, most of our TV personalities who preach the ban can be seen in an underground dungeon of the Trivandrum Press Club sipping whiskey and club soda.

Call us alcoholic. But we are the most beautiful, most literate…going…going…most slanted!