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Puja special – growing up as a typical Bong !!

With another Durga Puja coming in a few days, it is time to celebrate life as a Bengali, as nothing signifies more Bengali than gearing up for “Dugga” Puja. Thought to bring out some of the best moments that I used to enjoy a lot as part of growing up as a Bong !! The list can be endless, but to restrict that, I will just write on 12 such moments of a typical Bong – they may not be the best of the lot, but whatever comes in mind first is what is penned below:

  1. Let me start with Durga Puja itself. It was not the Puja itself that attracts a Bengali – it is the feeling of “Puja is coming” that perhaps excite more. As a person not too much interested in clothes, it was the “Puja-barshiki”s of Anandamela and Sandesh that attracted me most. The time when you get a thick “book” with new, fresh smell filled up with stories of Felu’da, Prof Sanku, Kakababu and Tintin. My brother and I used to fight for that special Anandamela edition – so much, that my father was forced to buy another one named “Sandesh” … and I got the taste of “divide and rule” first-hand
  2. I grew up in a disciplined atmosphere, when my father ensured that I need to study for some hours every day, even if the school is closed. While I appreciate the value of the same today, I used to hate that – any teenager thinks parents act as the worst enemies, isnt it ? :-) But Durga Puja was special – as those 5 days starting from Sasthi was exempted from that rule and hence those five days were simply glorious
  3. Bong’s have the reputation of spending more than half of their income on food. Anything that is exquisite is something a Bengali yearns for. And it all started with Sunday’s mangsho-bhaat (mutton curry with plain rice). A Sunday was not categorised as a “Sunday” unless you have mangsho-bhaat followed by a great siesta! And if the stomach grumbles, Bong’s love for Gelusil is exemplary
  4. Before 1905, in 1905 and after 1905, Bengal has remained united and will remain united. Almost. Ahem – Bong’s actually split into two when two clubs start a match – East Bengal and Mohan Bagan. That rivalry has been for ages and will remain for ages. Even during a local (para) football match, a dull game suddenly becomes live with viscous tackles when the locality decides to play a “East Bengal – Mohan Bagan” match by making the teams based on your support. I grew up in that atmosphere thanks to my uncles … and that has now in my DNA so much that in the time of Messi, Ronaldo and many greats, I will still watch a East Bengal – Mohan Bagan match rather than an Champions League final ! And East Bengal is the best – if you don’t believe, just check the records, you macha’s !
  5. If your food accidentally gets into the breathing channel and you start to choke and cough, common sense says you look at the ceiling so that gravity helps that part of the food slide down quickly. But Bong’s have made that famous by telling their children “opor’e dekh – laal tik-tiki” (look up, red lizard). Of course you don’t find any red lizard, but at least I had perhaps tried 100 times to look for a rarest red lizard in Kolkata :-)
  6. Bengali and sweets is known to everyone. My highly diabetic aunt used to have two rosogolla’s after a Sunday breakfast stating to her doctor son “You guys dont know anything. After luchi, you need to have sweet to digest”. I don’t know if ever any doctor, irrespective of how mad he is, will ever certify that statement
  7. The most irritating and yet innovative winter wear I have ever seen after visiting so many places in the world is Bong’s monkey cap. When the mild winter has not even started, all non Bong’s are keeping their fans on, here comes the proud Bengali with his “monkey cap” on. That part of the dressed worn from the head covers everything except for one slot – where your eyes to lips is exposed. The entire head, ears, chin and even neck are covered by that woolen cap. And that display is up at a temperature of 16-17 deg C – when the rest of the world feels relaxed and says “it’s a nice weather now”
  8. Whether you like it or not, a birthday cannot start without a “payesh” (imagine a sweet pudding with lots of rice in it). And worst part is your mother will cook payesh, your aunts will cook payesh and even the maid will cook payesh when you have your birthday as a child. I now know the reason behind my revulsion towards “payesh” – my birthdays!
  9. In Bengal, if you visit for the first time, you will probably find that the distance is measured in time and not in km or miles. Ask someone – how do I go to Gariahat ? Answer “take the auto – maximum 10 minutes”. How far is the airport from Jadavpur station ? “Well, by taxi, around 45 minutes, but for the traffic in Baguihati, it will be 75 minutes”
  10. I still cannot understand why our Prime Minister or United Nations head or even President of USA do not consult Bong’s for a solution of the most complex problem. Bong’s know everything, every Bong is an expert as well and every one of us believe the rest of the world are fools not to consider his opinion. Debates are the strong love of Bong’s and topics can be anything – financial market crash to Angelina Jolie to upcoming elections in UK to why potholes are increasing during monsoon season. We are the best – at least, we believe our opinion’s are the truth and only truth. Period.
  11. Irrespective of the results one achieves in school, parents will always say “abar faaki dichhish ?” (“again you are not willing to study”). You can top the class or the board exam or be a genius, you will hear this statement from all parents. And if you are a dull boy with negative IQ like me, then you will hear this 10 times every day
  12. Sleep is impossible with a pillow and the most comfortable bed ever – unless you have the “paash-baalish”, how on earth can you sleep ? For those who don’t know “paash-baalish” – it is a big pillow, cylindrical in shape, with length big enough so that you can embrace that with your legs. I wonder what happens to the habit after marriage (cannot go into more details please!), but till you are a teen, this sleep catalyst is a must, otherwise your entire childhood will be sleep-less and you will be a child-insomnia person

Each one of the above brought a smile in my face … hope it brings in yours as well ! Wish you all Happy Puja’s !

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I, me and Sachin

Those who know me well will vouch with full conviction that I hate waking up early in the morning and I prefer to be a late-night person. So, when I had a grueling three weeks in office including some of the weekends as well, I had looked forward for a day off yesterday when at least I can sleep till late in the morning. I had just landed on Thursday night in London from a business trip and was on my way home thinking of the next day off from office. The next day was Friday and so effectively an extended weekend for me … the day was 15-Nov-2013.

And yet it is amazing that I setup the alarm at 3.45 am on that day (remember a holiday for me !) which will allow me the 15 minute settling down before the last journey begins. Because that was the day I knew for sure Sachin Tendulkar will walk in to bat for the last time in his life. I had to be part of that walk, I had to accompany him for his last innings. And so it was a cold morning in London, me waking up, wrapping up in a blanket, sitting on the sofa, switching on the TV at 4 am (9.30 am India time) and waiting for the Master climb down the stairs from the pavilion amidst a deafening sound of “Sachiiiiiiiiin Sachin”. Yes, I could not afford to sleep for some more hours on a holiday, because within me my heart told that I should at least sacrifice some hours of sleep for a person who became a part of my life.

Why is it that Sachin Tendulkar became part of myself, became so integrated with my life, became so much embedded with my heart and emotions ? He does not have a great personality, he does not look great, he definitely does not have a Amitabh Bachhan-like voice, he rather looks like a dwarf on the field, his mannerism while batting is not great – specially his squatting while holding a part of his body is quite comical …. yet this person, whom I have not ever met, had unknowingly become a part of myself !

Probably it was the similar age between Sachin and myself … maybe it was the time when I could imagine myself being represented in the great sport of cricket through the body of Sachin … maybe it was the classic straight drive with a straight bat whether be in the front foot or backfoot … maybe it was the courage of one Indian cricketer who could counter attack the pace bowlers who tormented Indian cricket throughout the years …. maybe it was his humility … maybe his grace while batting touched me as a cricket lover …. maybe his passion for cricket and India  … maybe it was a combination of all these.

While I was young and growing up & Sachin was also growing and maturing to the best ever batsmen ever, I had two “guru”s defined in my life and I used to tell openly that to my mother – one was Kishore Kumar and the other Sachin Tendulkar (It was much later on that I learnt Sachin also loved Kishore Kumar songs so much – what a pleasant coincidence !). It was a common fact that if Tendulkar played well, my mother used to say that my mood will be very good and that I will eat that extra bit during dinner. My uncles knew about this and very often during family occasions used to plan within themselves and pretended to throw discussions with the message that Sachin was a rubbish batsman – and my reaction was predictable – I used to fight hard to prove that they were totally wrong.

Later on came Saurav Ganguly as the successful captain of India. With him came the common debate amongst most Bengali’s hovering around the point on who is better – is it Sachin or Sourav ? And the debates often rose to heated discussions with expletives being thrown left right and center. As was with every fan, I could not tolerate any ill-speaking of Sachin and sometimes to cover up his failures, I had to think of some different point of view so that I can divert the debate to some other sensitive topic so that people forgets the main reason behind the debate.

Every match of Sachin, every Indian match was something I need to watch – whether it is India vs Bangladesh or India vs Australia, it did not matter. And when Sachin used to bat, the tension was doublefold for me. If Sachin hit a four on a delivery, I used to force my friends not to shift from the seats they were seating till the over is finished. Generally the unofficial rule for me became – ‘first Sachin should score runs, then India can think of winning’ – a selfish way of thinking, no doubt.

So during the last 24 years, starting from the debut vs Pakistan till the end against West Indies, I grew up with Sachin … and the lines got merged with his playing and my growing up. His success made me feel as if I am myself successful, his failures made me scramble for excuses like ‘the ball was simply unplayable’, his centuries made me feel that I had went to bat and scored a century, his brilliant over at the Eden Gardens Hero Cup final made me shout “finally, we have got a great all-rounder” …….. without me knowing consciously, over the years Sachin became me, I became Sachin in life.

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And so, when Sachin’s last day came today on 16-Nov-2013, I am personally feeling a great void within myself … as if I have retired and will not know what to do tomorrow morning. People say that I am not that much an emotional person – but I literally could not hold my tears when Sachin walked back up the stairs on 15-Nov-2013 after making the majestic 74. It is so rare that a person whom I have never met could have impacted myself so much.

This story is nothing unique and all Sachin fans are perhaps experiencing the same feelings … that is the greatness of the man. So, when through BCCI I get the above personalised digital photograph of Sachin, I feel like a teenager once again – elated, happy and showing off the picture to everyone.

Today while I say THANK YOU SACHIN for the immense pleasures he gave to me for my last 24 years, I sign-off here with an online magazine on him, a small tribute to “a part of my life” (called Sachin Tendulkar) from myself : https://flipboard.com/section/all-about-sachin-tendulkar–bAlhRO

Wish Sachin all the best for the years to come …. and if ever I happen to meet him face-to-face, I will probably shake his hands and say “you made me complete as a human being … thank you for that”

 

We want a mature, patient, civilised world …. not to be ‘trigger-happy’

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We live in a so-called civilised world driven by the power of law, which has been formed by thoughtful groups and lots of common sense. One definition of ‘civilised’ means to have a high state of culture and development bound by basic virtues. We have found lots of ‘unions’ which gives us a platform to resolve issues at the highest levels, in case disputes are hard to solve at lower levels. We have vowed for following the rules, the ‘unions’, the ‘bodies’ we have formed across the world.
We call ourselves ‘mature’ – which has an inherent meaning of looking at a broader picture, taking lessons learnt into account  and then take decision based on facts, based on debates and consult these ‘unions’ & ‘bodies’ to come up to a decision that will be respected by all. When decisions are taken, it is normal that all parties who participated in the decision-making debates may not come to a unanimous consensus – but when a majority decision is taken, even the parties who had been advocating for the reverse, respects that. These all come under ‘maturity’.

We call ourselves ‘patient’ and that is linked to ‘maturity’. By patience, we imply that a decision will be taken by weighing different options, by hearing all sides of the story and then coming to a meaningful conclusion which we believe has been taken after much deliberation and to the best of our efforts. For that, respecting other’s opinions, understanding the context and the implications of the decision is key.

However, still why do we have the most ‘powerful’ and most ‘matured’ persons takes huge decisions in a trigger-happy manner without even deliberating with a broader forum ? Maybe that is the correct decision – but why do we have to behave like a ‘know-it-all’ person without any ‘patience’ and declare that the rest of the ‘unions’ and ‘bodies’ are of practical no-use, simply because we fear that those ‘unions’ & ‘bodies’ may come up with more logical & mature thinking that may result in a different decision ?

I hope we all can really behave as a civilised, mature and patient way resulting in uniting the world to collectively take a decision (and not just by myself) that will benefit in the long run ….

Economic Growth & Health

I have a strong conclusion that health conditions or even the awareness of good health practices are a direct function of economic prosperity of the individual. This has been arrived by looking at my family, my friends and their families around. Let me try to explain:

The principle rationale behind this conclusion is based on the fact that if I am not economically strong, how can I think anything beyond my basic survival strategy followed by some avenues for saving for a better future ? My life becomes circled on various transactions to reach this objective and to try to achieve this, I spend 14-16 hours a day with the rest 20% – 30% of the time spending in taking some rest in order to recharge myself for the next day survival.

Once I have some money in my bank and I think my basic standard of living has improved (which can be easily measured by the method of transportation now being mostly used, by the frequency of visits to restaurants and movie theaters, etc), then I automatically think of various other subjects that will tend to make my life longer and yet happier.

That is the time I hear on terms like “returns from equity much better than debt instruments”, impact of social marketing and social-commerce and of course, the various terminologies that pertains to the health barometer. I tend to know what HDL stands for, why triglyceride is not good for the long run, what are the parameters that normally come under a Lipid profile test, etc. By the way, I am not a doctor by profession, nor am I associated with the medical line; yet, there is a big knowledge investment on health parameters to allow me to even lecture to my friends on what food they should avoid if they have a high SGPT !

However, at the end of the day, do we, sometimes tend to think that “ignorance is bliss” when we can have two cream-cracker biscuits thinking of the moron who actually named this as a “cream cracker”  !! Who would have cared for this knowledge and deprive us of the niceties in life ?

Well, guys, if you feel the frustration similar to the above, let me tell you one thing – you definitely have gone up the economic prosperity value chain :-)

What are you doing now-a-days ?

Very often, when people meet each other after a long time, you undoubtedly listen to the question “what are you doing now-a-days ?” – isn’t it ? While we reply to that in our own ways (which basically means in our own “defensive” or “bragging” way), I often thought what exactly do people mean when they actually ask the question. Well, I have interpreted the same in a kind of way, which probably will mean something idiotic to most of the people. So, at the risk of being defined as an idiot, let me take the risk with my explanation.

Whoever asks you the question actually tries to ask you “how ‘big’ you are in your company or society ?”, they mean to ask “have you bought an five-million worth property”; they mean to ask “whether your car is the latest in-thing in the city”; they mean to ask “whether your salary slip has enough zeroes to make someone envious”; they mean to ask “what’s your STATUS across your own world” ………. and then depending upon our nature, we either tend to inflate on what we have achieved so far or tend to become ‘defensive’ under the umbrella of modesty.

Most people tend to ‘measure’ the position in the famous ‘rat-race’ .. the race to become ‘big’ … but one of my friends had posted a fantastic dialogue in Facebook “even if you win the rat-race; you, at the end of the day, is nothing but a rat” … and we, rat’s, always try to ‘measure’ up the other rat just to check whether we have already ‘overtaken’ all other rats who are your peers.

I feel that we should modify the question to “How much happy are you ?” … because if we have achieved the personal target of ‘happiness’, then there will not be any tension on any rat-race, nor will anyone be a winner or a loser … all of us will be then HAPPY and I personally believe that if we can tell “I am happy” moments before our death, we then have lived life king-size !

So, let me ask you now “How much happy are you ?” 

The scene of “obscene” pricing

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Very recently some of my friends, including myself, were debating on the topic of the prices of the expensive smart phones available in the market and one of the common conclusions being drawn was that the prices can be labelled as “obscene” to a common man. That led me to think what defines this definition of obscene pricing and whether the corporations have the right to go for this kind of obscene prices of products.

The basic philosophy of corporations is not only to make profits but to maximize the same at a minimum cost. This is because this will allow the companies to grow, make more profit and by that measure make the share holders happy. Hence in a free economy, any organisation has the right to price any of their products in a manner that will help then to make more profit and I personally believe that is not a crime. If they price a product insanely high resulting in people not buying it just because they don’t see the value in buying that product at that price, then obviously the company will not generate that amount of sales to create any profit and will soon be out of business. While pricing, they might definitely target a particular customer category which might make the other customer categories feel that the same product is “too costly” for them to afford it.

However if the economy is state controlled, then the scenario might be current as the government will feel the necessity to control the prices of the various products and hence to the consumer, they will feel that they are getting the prices as dictated by a bigger and powerful body. Obviously this will lead to the lack of options to the consumer and hence in the longer run the people living in that country will feel that they are deprived of the fundamental right of having a self determination of choosing a right product for his use and to his own liking. We have seen that happening in several countries in the 20th century.

In a free economy if a business is so lucrative that a company can afford to maintain an “obscene” pricing, then either the company has some unique technology to invent an unique product which no other company has; or they are the first entrants with that product in that market. But it will be a matter of time when the prices will be coming down with competition coming in to take a slice of that thriving market.  The best example we have seen in recent years in India is in the telecommunication sector wherein the prices of hardware as well as services 10 years ago was quite “oscene” and only a few selected people could afford that price. But now you will find a mobile in the hands of every person walking in the street. This is what a free economy can do to an obscene pricing.

Inventions or “first of a kind” products can afford to keep a very high price in the beginning, but the balancing power of a free economy will force the system to come to a price equilibrium. Till that comes, there might be instances when the prices looks “obscene” – but it will be the force of the competition which will bring down the insane prices to sanity !

Let’s follow Japan

When I started my professional career, I was exposed to something called The Quality Circle, which is encouraged by many organisations. Basically, it encompassed the philosophy of one Mr. William Deming – an American who was not recognised for his recommendations, who moved to Japan on an invite and was instrumental in the rise of Japan for quality products. At one point of time, the word “Japan” symbolised lack fo quality and was looked upon with a smear on a face. However, thanks to Mr. Deming, the Japanese found out the huge potential within its production line and soon became a leader in quality products – surpassing their American counterparts quite easily. The laughing-stock of international forum had become the leaders in a very short timeline. This was Japan transforming to a great example to emulate.

The World War-II had destroyed many countries – but the most severely impacted was Japan, after the two atom bomb attacks. The country was grounded, buildings razed to the ground, physically exhausted, war-criminal acts pursued by other nations. Obviously, the country was ‘finished’. Then how come within a span of 40 – 50 years, the country has risen like a spectre to be treated with respect and become one of the leading countries in the world ?

Only recently I read an article on Japanese honesty and I quote from the article

Since the March earthquake and tsunami that leveled much of Japan, thousands of wallets containing a total of $48 million in cash have washed ashore — and been turned in, ABC reports. In addition, 5,700 safes containing $30 million in cash also have turned up.

Japanese honesty !

This is simply unbelievable to me – here is a nation destroyed by a huge earthquake, many of the people living in distress having lost all their earthly things, the temptation to get ‘free’ money is huge … yet, 2.3 billion yen of cash has been given back to the owners ! Amazing – specially coming from a country where we see huge scams, corruption everywhere in public life …

This country is worth emulating and instead of going towards Russia or US, we should take lessons of national pride, honesty, hard-work, honesty from this country named Japan !

The borrowing feats …

I will start this post with a BIG disclaimer : I am not an economist, nor do I have any competency in analysing how nations run; but I am a commoner with some basic views that I claim as “common-sense”. I am sure the experts will disagree with my views – but if they do so, I would appreciate if they help me ‘learn’ by explaining the rationale behind their disagreement.

The experts say that the world is interconnected – and in all sphere’s of life. It’s just not the internet that is the backbone behind the interconnection, but all financial markets, nations economies, the quality of your and my life – all are interconnected. That is why, we poor Indians were waiting what will be the decision in US on their handling (or mis-handling) of public debt – because that decision might have an impact on our Sensex.

As a lay-man and a commoner who is worried on whether his stock investments will be hit because of the US decision, I decided to learn something on the borrowing feats by the most powerful nation of the world, United States of America. What I saw, what I learnt made me feel that is this the way power is defined at an international level ? Maybe I am too naive to question the very basics, maybe my conclusions do not make any sense … time will answer me surely.

The above figures have been taken from IMF site and depicts the public debt as percentage of the country’s GDP. Though I could not find out the benchmark value against which nation’s performances are to be compared; what strikes me that apart from Japan (again, don’t understand why the values are so high and yet Japan does so well), US leads the above elite group of nations with not only 99%, but with an increasing trend (at that high value) of public debt as compared to other nations. Singapore is also quite near to that, but at least it has a decreasing trend. Amongst the BRIC countries, probably China leads the way by such an aggressive value. Experts say that with such high public debt figures (w.r.t. the GDP) will lead to lesser economic growth, more job losses, more spending cuts, less development projects, etc

What perhaps is more alarming for US is that the figures increased from around 70% in 2007 to ~ 99% in 2010 – which basically means that the huge amount of debt was taken in last 3 years compared to the yield that the country had produced. I am sure this was in line with the financial crisis (or scams) that rocked the country – but again, there were huge write-offs that also eliminated bad debts from the corporations.

 


The above chart from Wikipedia shows that China has increased their debt holdings dramatically from 2005 till now. Currently it holds more than 25% of all foreign-held treasure securities. Interestingly, all the major nations are there in this chart, except for say UK and France … and India. What will happen if China decides to sell all their 25% of the securities overnight ? Maybe a theoretical question – but the impact will be HUGE … maybe, that can trigger off a nasty Third World War !

What I also learnt was that total national debt in US will nearly double in dollar terms between 2008 and 2015 and multiple government sources said the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal path. This indeed is worrying – and now I can appreciate when I read reports that President Obama did not have much sleep in the last few days, till he found an agreement on passing on the US bill to raise the debt ceiling level. Whether this solves the problem in the longer term, I don’t know – but definitely this will save US from international embarrassment and obviously will allow the politicians to fight a big election battle next year.

Net-net – What I have understood that some very fundamental, basic decisions needs to be taken by the most powerful nation to override the fundamental problem. Currently, their strategy is perhaps postponing the problem as long as they can – specially keeping the impending elections in view. But if drastic spending cuts, increasing of GDP and yet not to borrow proportionately is done, will this be a big balloon which will eventually burst one day ? And in that process, not only the country, but the entire world gets heavily impacted ? …. If the policies don’t change drastically, then the borrowing feats will continue and we can then only keep our fingers crossed …..

Globalisation and it’s impact while creating constraints in overall value chain

Almost two years back, when I was at Birmingham, UK deployed for a project, there was a violent gathering here near my apartment at the center of the city. It started with a public meeting of a party called BNP which believes in radical thinking with a society of all-white’s. It was then countered by the so-called “immigrants” who were obviously at the target of BNP’s agenda … and as expected, things started to turn violent in certain pockets leading to the presence of large police battalion with helicopter patrolling. The thought of this incident came after witnessing something of the same sort in TV back in India few days back.

When I was thinking of this today morning, the immediate thought that came to me was Constraint based Globalisation and it’s impact. In real world, whether in individual lives or in corporate lives or in state lives, all of us work for a solution which is best within the constraints. In supply chain terminology, many refer to this as contraint-based planning. But in today’s context, I would rather term this as constraint based globalisation due to reasons as detailed below.

When I started by corporate career 15 years ago, all corporations used to struggle in optimisation of its resources within their own geographical boundaries. Even today, corporations do struggle in optimisation of resources – but the only difference is that the spread has changed and instead of geographical boundaries, they can spread their wings across the globe. The same applies in states and nations. That is why economic partnerships have become so critical in today’s success of nations – that is why we have the G8’s, the G20’s, the EU’s and so on … and when at times, economic partnerships fail to address some of the areas where demand is more than the supply, this leads to political and military battles – be it in the streets of Iraq or in some other place in the world.

Coming back to the context of the incident at Birmingham, I feel that the globalisation impact on constraint based resource management is getting felt, specially at times of big recessions like this. Certain strata’s of the society are getting threatened because of globalisation and putting the entire nation’s economic needs in a global linkage towards getting value for money … in other words, keeping other parameters same, I would always like to go for something that is the cheapest.

Hence, we have corporations, nations going for cheapest labours, cheapest products, cheapest manufacturing with the assumption that quality and other technical parameters remain constant. With globalisation, the incentive to go beyond the natural shores or boundaries is much high and hence we now have pockets of specialisations across the world. It is not just a group of people who are specialised in certain activities, but also certain nations have specialised themselves in certain services, industries.

This has led to relatively incompetent people or comparatively less-skilled people of a nation losing their jobs or activities to group of other people not necessarily belonging to the same nation. This is leading to natural unhappiness of the local people and the reaction is the same whether in Birmingham or whether at Kolkata or in US or anywhere else.

The world has become smaller and the supply chain has become bigger going beyond corporations or nations. Hence constrain based globalisation is having positive and negative impacts across different societies and this is manifested through different types of reactions.

However, at the end of the day it will still be the survival of the fittest … only the definition of fittest will evolve through time and some will survive in good health and others will be soon extinct

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