All you need is ELA balance

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Oct 12 2009, 01:48am hrs
Travelling with MindTrees gardener Subroto Bagchi the other day, he reminded me of a tea-break tte--tte 12 years ago, when we had met in Bangalore. It seems I had said that whatever business strategy or the best thing in life we come up with, if an ELA problem arises, existence becomes hell on earth. He remembers that as powerful truth.

Whats this ELA balance, so crucial for life, irrespective of country, politics, religion or economic condition

Eating, the E factor of ELA balance, is surely our most prior subject. Popular French singer Alain Souchon made famous the song, On est foutus, on mange trop, meaning we are f***ed, we eat too much. While some control food to retain the beauty of their body, those suffering from illnesses have genuine eating problems. I hope the 21st centurys technology advancement will improve the lot of the worlds 963 million under-fed, so food truly becomes a human right.

In India, taste overpowers any trepidation over food not being hygienic and healthy. Let me illustrate from my professional work. Visiting mom-and-pop stores across the country, I was shocked to find 76 per cent of all edible oil being sold loose and poured into tins or plastic jars that consumers bring with them. Retailers use the same largesometimes opencontainers with taps and funnels, year after year, in their overcrowded small shops infested by rats and cockroaches. Its deplorable that three-fourths of Indian consumers, their doctors and nutritionists, are oblivious to this unhygienic oil usage in daily cooking.

A renowned doctor explained that in India, dietetics does not factor in the medical studies curriculum. So there exists no structured discipline about diet in doctors recommendations. Nor is there any stringent government regulation, unlike in developed countries, towards a nationwide programme for the upkeep of peoples health. When will we make a habit of eating hygienic food

Lets enter the L factor through the unpredictable distance Indian truckers cover in their everyday life. Our first priority should again be to ingrain in them a sense of hygiene. Heres why. Covering the countrys every corner, lorry drivers stay long days away from home largely in badly-engineered trucks, on miserable roads and through various weather conditions. They catch naps in highway dhaba string cots, try to meet impractical arrival time deadlines, and eat in cultural regions they are unused to. In this harrowing journey, a truckers only pleasure is engaging a sex worker. But he lays down a condition: he will not use a condom. His reason When I pay full value, why should I compromise on fulfilment The sex worker agrees for fear of losing this on-the-spot earning when starving children are at home.

The Centre for Media Studies indicates that almost 40% of Indias six million truck drivers are infected with AIDS, and only 18% use condoms. Of the 18 to 45-year-old truckers surveyed, 80% were married. So they bring the fatal disease back to their families.

The UNO estimates 25 million in India to be AIDS-contaminated by 2010. So the challenge of Love, the central factor of ELA balance, is to first make the trucker want to use a condom when making love. I am yet to see condoms being made easily available in economically backward areas or systematic training imparted to people to change their mindset and enjoy love with protection. Surely poverty and lack of education cannot take away the human right to love

To touch the A of ELA balance, Ill take you to a senior management leadership programme I recently conducted. It was on creating a sustained emotional connect to a brand. I asked the participants, who had 18-20 years of in different industries, how they liked ablutions, the A in ELA. There was stunned silence. Is this something for discussion Do they enjoy it personally Would they like to hear more about it In that sophisticated conference room in Hyderabad, nobody knew what to say. Will you have the passion to create branding that is relevant to ablutions I asked.

Everything that has inner value can be branded, I told them. This inner value should have some benefit that consumers can see, experience and enjoy. I then introduced Japans Toto, the sanitaryware company that inspires employees to think and dream about ablutions to innovate incredible products. Toto has teamed up with Daiwa to develop a bathroom that lets users monitor their health. It analyses urine samples, measures blood pressure and checks body fat even as the user is sitting on the throne.

When working for a food giant in Greece, I happened to meet a super-rich Greek man at Pireaus beach near Athens. He loved India, became a good friend, and started calling me Frenchie-Indian. Over dinner with his wife, he invited me to accompany him to Doussikou Monastery, built by St Vissarion in 1522 near Salonika. Women are not allowed there. A 10-metre-high wall encircles this three-storied northern Greece structure comprising 366 cells. Reservations do not easily fructify in this exclusive holy place that commandeers people into regimentation, to live in prison-like cells without electricity, wear in-house robes, and not talk. I became curious about the affluent struggling to experience the exotics of a degraded lifestyle.

Returning to Greece on work a few months later, I met my 60-year-old friend when his wife had just left for the US. He said hed already visited the monastery twice and insisted I come. Seeing my hesitation, he suddenly started crying: I live in this palatial home, have untold wealth, but my life is wretched, he confessed. Work pressure has affected my health and my restricted diet allows me nothing I enjoy. Ive become unable to satisfy my 35-year-old, lovely wife. She loves me but I have to free her for affairs with young boys. My worst suffering is the terrible haemorrhoids. Believe me, to escape from all these troubles, Doussikou Monastery has become my most pleasurable place. There I am commanded to abandon all greed, love and passion.

This, since 1994, has been my real learning; that ELA balance is vital for every life situation, whether you are rich, poor or possessed of whatever characteristic, inherent, learnt or acquired.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management.