Thursday, June 30, 2005

Kitsch goes mainstream - remix

After listening to one more remix, this time of a Dil to Pagal Hai song, I wondered how much the times have changed. Many years ago, adding jhankar beats (essentially random bass beats and jhankar) to a song, any song was in vogue. Not among the nouveau riche or the Malabar Hill types, but it was a part of kitsch culture. Thus you got to hear jhankar songs usually in slums, ganpati festivals and the like. I remember how I cringed when our office delivery boy offered his walkman for me to listen to what he was hearing. It was titled Bindiya Chamkegi remix with super duper jhankar beats or something like that. The dandiya festivals were another driver with their requirement being that songs run non stop. Thus one song seamlessly switched into another with the addition of a layer of extra beats on the original song, making the original music almost redundant.

Then Bally Sagoo happened. Remixes moved from a sub culture to mainstream. Not every part of kitsch (sorry, one time kitsch) moves into the mainstream, but this one definitely has. Jhankar songs usually went hand in hand with pimped up auto rickshaws, atleast in Bombay, but more about that some other time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Videocon largest CPT maker

Videocon has acquired Thomsons colour picture tube (CPT) facilities across the globe in a deal worth about 240 million euros (1260 crore INR). This acquisition makes Videocon the globes largest CPT maker. While this is good news, these facilities, I inferred from the piece and quotes, may have to be upgraded.

...Mr V.N. Dhoot, Managing Director of Videocon International Ltd, said: "The group has lined up an investment of $500 million (including the cost of acquisition) over the next three years to realign qualitatively and quantitatively the acquired units."...

...He added that the group has drawn out a plan to improve these facilities by adding the latest products and technology such as slim tube, plasma, LCD, and other flat-panel display lines...

The report(s) does not speak of competition from the other biggies of the world. But the piece in FE says

...Thomson’s facilities include full-fledged R&D facilities at various places located in Europe and China along with access to a large resource of the patents and IPRs relating to the most basic technologies in CPT...

I did some research (euphemism for Googling and Wikipedia) on television technology. While I dont know the range of Thomsons CPT manufacturing or research, my guess is that globally television displays are moving from basic CPT to other types of displays (LCD, plasma and so on). Heres a link

... At the same time that we are witnessing the passing of analog television, an evolution in television technology is occurring. The familiar CRT TV (cathode ray tube - or ‘picture tube”) is being pushed aside by an array of new competitors. These include: Plasma ... LCD ... LCoS ... DLP; to name some of the emerging television technologies, now competing for your attention...

We are still a longish way off from a time where CPTs will be replaced entirely, so Videocon has time.

It is also a good thing for Videocon, which has lost a fair amount of marketshare (couldnt get an appropriate link) and mindshare to the Koreans in India to compete at a global level.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The language advantage

I think in one language, talk very well in one, can give bad words best in another. It works very well for me. Over time however, this tendency to think in one language and talk in another has been made out to be the bane of the lack of fluency in English for Indians by many people. This concept having been ingrained in the parents and fluency in English being a premium, parents (yes, I mean the urban affluent) often train their children in just one language, which is English. The children become fluent in English, but they lose touch with their native language. This robs them of some of the advantages of knowing one more language and also kills the regional language bit by bit (here). While in the formative years, there is a tendency to teach English to the children, there is a premium on learning foreign languages like French, German or Spanish later on in life. We, are very happy learning these languages (such a beautiful language!) rather than learn Kannada while living in Karnataka or Marathi while living in Maharashtra. (Oh!! its such a problem communicating, you can hear them cry)

Children, I have seen, with my limited experience pick up whatever is thrown at them. I have seen kids speak 3 languages by age 3 or so just by exposure to those languages and without any loss of fluency in any of the languages.

I know 5 languages well and 2 reasonably well and it is a great advantage (to get things done, to connect etc.) to know these languages. It would be an untold loss to me if I could have spoken just one language. Here's a related post by Abi on when should kids start learning learn English? and another one here by Jayesh.

Snazzy highways..

In an earlier post, I had mentioned how better roads will lead to a road trip tourism boom. I had also mused about how it would be if some petrol pumps that offered great service also had a eatery. Two articles caught my eye over the past few days.

The first was on Reliance Dhabas.

...Located on the major highways across the country, these hospitality formats are planned to be the refreshment hub for frequent travelers and professional drivers with key focus on providing hygienic food and comfortable amenities, including showers, rest and recreation, communication and entertainment...

The second one was on Barista Coffee bars on highways. I personally prefer roadside coffee and tea stalls, rather than coffee priced more after factoring airconditioning (i mean, ambience) and waiters, but both these in tandem with better roads, vehicles will only mean that there will be more of us waiting to do road trips. And it will be a more comfortable one.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Digital pics and studios

That the advent of digital cameras has made photography more accessible is in evidence for for some time now (see my Flickr flash on the sidebar). For those who can afford it, of course. Digital cameras are becoming more and more affordable and in tandem with the drop in prices of cellphones with cameras, taking photographs has never been easier.

In our earlier trips, we would cover an entire trip with one or two film rolls. Only one trip till date (a marathon one over half of Himachal Pradesh) covered 4 rolls. Thats was about 200 odd exposures over 12 days. With digital cameras, on my last 4 day trip, I took over a 100 pictures. It included random shots of water, trees, multiple group photos and stuff which I would never take if I had just an analog camera along. Thus many people can pursue photography as a hobby with just the fixed cost of the camera, unlike in analog times when photography was an expensive hobby with prohibitive D&P costs.

Digital lets me chose the pictures I want and lets me print at home with pretty good exposure. No running to the studio, each time someone wants a copy. With some simple manipulations, I can take passport pictures (the only reason other than Developing and Printing that I would need a studio) at my home itself. Some companies, like Nikon are already seeing the shift from film to digital.

Studios beware, your business aint gonna last long, except of course for the professional touch and niche services.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Weekend thoughts

NDTV runs this channel called NDTV Profit and it has an amazing half an hour slot for some Hindi programme on the share market on that particular day.

When I caught this programme between some hectic channel surfing with a cousin who was searching for some cricket match, it was at its best. As the correspondent was asked some question in Hindi about the market, he fished for Hindi words. Stocks, Bulls, bears, derivatives everything was in English and only the conjunctions were in Hindi and that too in a phunny accent! I am sure Hindi oriented viewers are queueing to watch this programme!! But do watch if you would like a few laughs. What would they call NDTV Profit if they launched a full fledged channel in Hindi? NDTV Fayda?

Theres this tele serial which my mother watches every day on Sun TV, by the name of Kolangal (well, Rangoli in Hindi, cant think of a meaning in English). It is about this teary eyed woman protagonist against whom Murphys law works overtime and her even more teary eyed sisters. The story keeps stretching like an amoeba in heat in ever different directions. At every episode the story moves as much as city traffic in half an hour, punctuated by breaks almost the length of the teleserial. Ditto for a similar serial by the name of Kavyanjali, on Malalayam Asianet. Why dont they know when to stop?

These may go on for the next 30 years, I think, as producers try and milk as much as they can out of them. How long will these soap operas continue till viewers lose interest in them?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Amazing info on China

Check this link!

Here are some snippets on China

- Approximately 40% of the world oil demand growth over the past 4 years.
- Highest production and consumption of coal.
- Largest producer of steel and cement.
- Second largest consumer of energy.
- Third largest producer of energy.

There more at the link!

Jobs boom in India

The real estate boom in Bangalore is still on. Alongside, there's a boom of a different kind that has kept pace with the real estate boom. The jobs boom. Bangalore (along with Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, NCR) is in the centre of a jobs boom. Jobs are not there for everyone, but for the qualified engineers, Computer application grads. With the growth in IT services operations out of India, technology jobs are up for grabs. They have been so for a while, but the boom shows no signs of flagging.
Sample this:
Among the big 3 of Indian IT, an excerpt from Infosys annual report:
"FY2005 saw us build 2.9 million sq.ft in 6 locations, equipped with 10,400 seats. In the next 12 months, we will complete 3.2 million sq ftin7 locations with 16 600 seats. Hence in 24 months, we would have constructed 6.1 million sq ft with 27000 seats.The company added (net) 8801 employees during the last FY as compared to 8021 in the year before that."

Another of the big 3, Wipro grew from 29 odd thousand employees to 39 thousand odd (Todays Economic times puts that number at 45000) employees which is an addition of almost 10,000 employees.

Between the big 3 or 4, the addition seems to be about 10,000 a year each.Apart from this, there are many medium sized players whose combined appetitite is almost similar. With newer and newer companies (774 new companies set up shop in India in 2004; source, an older issue of Businessworld India) setting up shop in India the computer engineer (and anything similar) is highly sought after. India, produces a lot of engineers and now even the big companies are looking beyond the IITs, NITs, locally reknowned colleges (Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Pune, Bangalore etc have a fine crop of those) and at technically trained people from places like NIITs. Some, like Wipro have their own in house job linked Masters programme equivalent for graduates.

If, 30 years ago, graduates did not have a job to look up to and looked to line up in front of the employment exchange, today, if you can talk reasonably well, call center jobs are available. If talking is not your forte, you can handle simple processes (clerical work), BPO jobs are
available
. One can argue that it is a McJob, but I would rather have a McJob than be unemployed . BPOs usually have their own internal training programmes that can scale up almost anybody with a reasonable aptitude and attitude. For computer qualified professionalls ( and networking, hardware and related) its a gold rush. As a spillover effect, relatively unskilled work like catering at offices, cooks at home, drivers, gardeners, baby sitters are finding work like never before. Agencies offer temp services too for almost every position!

Newspapers (and others) hold job fairs where multiple firms put up stalls, candidates walk in, apply, appear for a test and interview and walk out of the fair with a job offer in hand(not everybody does). It is also routine for people to accept a job offer, resign and then scout the market for "better" (paying) jobs. Switching jobs is now almost an end in itself, though beyond a point it is counter productive on the resumes. Companies have tried every trick in the book (and some of them work very well) to keep their best employees. Shining campuses, flexible work hours, free transport, the works!

The old concept of joining a firm to retirement has been thrown out of the window. The average number of years spent in a firm is now more in single digits. How long will this boom last ? Watch this space.

Update June 27: Temping on the rise
Todays EconomicTimes, paper edition has a piece on how IBM will hire more than Infosys and TCS. (couldn't find the link, but heres a snip)

...the company will hier 14,000 more workers in India this year...(this) is 500 more than the 13500 announced recently by the countrys largest services provider TCS...Infosys this fiscal will add 12,600 to its payrolls...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hand me downs spread technology

Business standard has a piece on second hand goods and how they form a part of purchases of lower income groups. Another type of second hand (not sales but) hand me downs, also play an important role.

Many of us, while upgrading our cellphones have passed on our old handsets to our parents, who would not have bought a cellphone on their own. Ditto for cameras etc. Hand me downs seem to play an important role in exposing a greater number of people to emerging technologies like these.

SPOT the trend

Its a common scene in every city. The moment you get out of a long distance bus, bus-station, railway station or airport the taxi and auto chaps offer you a ride,literally as well as figuratively. Some of them may be genuine, but my experience has been such that I usually avoid those who solicit business this way. It is especially painful when ones reaches a destination say in the wee hours, only to be fleeced by these chaps.

Bangalore does not have the signature yellow taxis of the other metros, but it has a decent radio cab system. There are many operators who provide services on a call. I have tried quite a few, but the best seems to be SPOT which has answered my call at odd hours without a complaint or asking for extra money at the end of the trip. Their drivers are courteous and know their routes well. Just before we reached Bangalore via train at 3.30 am, we gave them a call and they were there at the exact spot at the exact time.

These chaps may well break the back of the fleecers. More power to such services.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Brandscape Landscape...

Travelling is a great idea for blog posts. This weekend, I travelled to Kerala to my native village. As I saw the billboards that passed me by, I was struck by the difference of the highway billboards that stare at us in different places. Alongwith the landscape, the advertising billboards, that I call brandscape (I have no idea if this term means something else) also shows remarkable changes.

One of the things that I quote so often when I talk to people is a Tata Power billboard placed just at the point of entrance to Bombay at Manhkhurd, which used to say "Welcome to the city of dreams and dependable Power". Billboards all along Bombay are of brands we know. The Provogues, the movies, mutual funds, coaching classes, the TV channels and so on. Bangalore has, apart from the brands, many billboards advertising IT companies, recruitment billboards and so on.

Kerala, by contrast, apart from the painted images of filmstars, has many jewellery shop billboards, some adverts of sari shops and so on. Most of the brand names are local rather than pan Indian. It is quite different from many other parts of the country. While I thought about it, I realised that "brandscape" is quite different in different places.

The brandscape (the brands that dot the landscape, eyesore as they are), actually lets you feel the pulse of the place, as a marketeer (I am not one) and I thought this was an interesting comparison.

Pathans, Thrissur, Kerala

After a weekend visit to Kerala, I have to put in a post for Pathans. No, it is not pronounced as in Irfan Pathan, but more with a Tamil/Malayalam accent. Local food is hard to get in popular tourist destinations, since the average tourist Raju wants Paneer Butter Masala and Roti everywhere. Kerala has been an exception (or maybe because I am so used to the place). Restaurants (not 5 star ones) in Kerala serve warm water, usually boiled with herbs (Dahashamani etc.) and most rice is Raw boiled (unpolished) red rice, unless otherwise mentioned.

For those who want to taste a Tamil/Malayalam cuisine, try out Pathans in Thrissur (en route to the bigger tourist destinations like Alapuzha, Kumarakom etc.) for meals. For about 32 rupees, they serve a mean feast, complete with tingling Kalan (calling it kadhi would be injustice), spicy rasam (it can clear throats!), red rice, a payasam (not those powdery substitutes) and udad pappad (not the lijjat variety), among other thins.

I am sure they dont need this plug, having been around for a long time, but the feast was probably one of the few feasts where there was great food and great value for money. Try it out sometime.

Appy Fizz

Appy Fizz - A product launch that I forgot to post about!

Appy has launched carbonated Appy, christened Appy Fizz in champagne shaped bottles. I am not sure whats the big idea in fizzy apple drinks, but to me it merited a trial and it did taste well. But when I am looking to have a soft drink, which is usually when I am thirsty or with a meal, I am not sure if I will reach for Appy Fizz. If I have a party at home, it seems like a good idea.

But fruit drinks loaded with sugar are not for the health conscious. Its the no sugar brands that hold fort in that space. The fizzy drinks space is for colas and their flanking non cola and fruit drink brands. There is some market for Appy Fizz, I dont know which. With its innovative packaging, it will ensure a good trial, but where it will finally settle down, is something time will tell.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Weekend thoughts

I have a strolley. It is one of those suitcases with wheels at the bottom. Trouble is, I barely get to use it. So, asks me, why not design a strolley suited for Indian conditions? What will it look like? Perhaps more like a tractor.

One more person hit while crossing roads, this time bang outside my home. The obvious solution, build speedbreakers every 30 metres and let everybody travel at 30 kmph. The painful solution, which is better roads, is not seen by too many. Our highway makers and approval granters still see no wisdom in building roads with access control, roads, proper roads with underpasses, subways, signals, entry and exit routes instead of arbit pathways where vehicles and people enter and exit in any direction.

Every city is a village, Bangalore

Politics is something I prefer to keep out of this weblog, unless it concerns economics or business or infrastructure. Our local hero, who occassionally rides tractors in the wrong direction on main roads in Bangalore, thumbing his nose at the traffic havaldars who shout instructions over loudspeakers, has decided that the city near his village doesnt need a metro rail. That was a very long sentence, so lets try breaking that up into a big post.

Bangalore is a village that has not let go of its ancient moorings despite its gleaming facade. It is one of those villages, ruled by Peters principle driven sarpanchs who cannot think of anything beyond their village (and nose). It is not their fault, some of them ruled India like it was their village. An entirely different set rules India like it is their village, but thats another story.

Villages dont need roads, since most of the transport when the rulers lived in villages were by bullock carts ( yes, our rulers are ancient). Ergo, Bangalore doesnt need roads. And when they travel in gleaming motorcades on roads emptied of traffic by the posse of policemen, they never see any traffic.(Where are the vehicles, they ask). When they travel by helicopter, every thing looks so orderly. Besides, dont we have enough tractor paths for the upcoming technology of tractors, they ask, as was successfully demonstrated a few years ago.

Coming back to village life, most of the villages work is done by farm hands, ergo, we barely need electricity. After all, electricity is a dangerous thing, it electrocutes people when live wires fall on them. The sad thing is that electricity is available for all of some 33 minutes a day. To touch a live wire which is falling during those 33 minutes takes amazing foresight, according to the rulers, so they have cut those 33 minutes too. Our rulers cannot bring themselves to get those electricity cables underground like some of the other cities have done. Underground is for beetroot, potatoes and perhaps raddish.

Just above the electricity lines are our heritage structures. No, not stupas or statues, but unfinished flyovers that with some decent painting, would pass off as art.

Somewhere in the village which we call a city, a few bad boys set IT up. They gave jobs to educated people and built a business that did something with computers to America. They gave employment to a few lakh engineers and a few thousand drivers and another few thousands of gardeners, plumbers, caterers, security guards most of whom would not have found a good job if it were not for IT. They created their own electricity, built their own roads and provided their own transport and created a whole new economy. The village rulers were pissed, because, they said, some people from their village never got employment and because they said IT took their fallow lands at dirt cheap prices (which they gladly accepted then) and made money out of it (well, not out of land, but people and skills). Since they made money, the land owners said, give us more money now.The son of soil has since then asked for IT to move to his relatives villages, which they call cities.

Meanwhile in the big village traffic increased to humongous proportions on non existent roads and the people said, build a metro rail for us. No, said the son of the soil, let us have a debate over whether we need the metro (and then, whether we need roads or electricity).

If the underground is already occupied by the beetroots,potatoes and the odd telephone cable and the ground above by our works of art, where can we build the metro, asks the son(grandfather) of the soil. We cannot risk losing all the beetroots, can we, said he. Look at China, they have no beetroots. Isnt that sad.

This was my weekend attempt at humour. If liked by those who read it, it reads as waah! Else, its more of a weakened attempt at humour.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Air jam

India is heading for a traffic jam in the air. There is a profusion of budget airlines. Choose from Spice, Air Deccan, Air India Express, Kingfisher and some more in the wings.

Many of these fledgling carriers are out shopping for planes. Half of the worlds new planes are being ordered by Indian carriers. It is great that cheap tickets allow everybody to fly. But there are a few glitches

Our airports are pathetic (usully worse than bus stations, but for the fact that they are airconditioned).
Do we have so many pilots?
Do we have so much maintenance facilities?
Do we have sufficient infrastructure at our airports?

Something that is covered in this piece

... "The world is sceptical about the way Indian new-born carriers are ordering planes. How are they going to get so many pilots, where is the infrastructure?" ...

Elsewhere it says

...Complete unknowns—until even a few days ago. IndiGo Air, promoted by Delhi based air travel services company InterGlobeEnterprises, on Thursday announced the acquisition of 100 A-320 aircraft...

100 A-320's!!! The world over, aviation industry hasnt exactly been a money spinner, so it really is surprising to see experienced as well as neophytes leap into the air race.

There is no denying the fact that We do need better and cheaper air connectivity. To fly from Bangalore to Bhubhaneshwar is costlier than flying from Bangalore to Colombo or Singapore, which is ridiculous. But do we have the bandwidth to take these on? Assuming all orders translate into reality, will our airports be modern enough to take on so much traffic? Will airports help us tide over our bad roads?

Of course, considering many of these are just orders and will take a while to translate into planes and may not translate 100% into planes (cancellations, backing out etc. etc, the air traffic jam is some way off. For the time being, it is an interesting time for the travellers as prices get slashed.

Spicy idea!

Keeping my earlier posts on low cost airlines in mind (Air Deccan, here, here, here and here) this one is again on low cost airlines which have booked in India. Spice jet has come up with a Bombay Bangalore rate of about 999 rupees. Add 221 or so as airport tax and its still a good deal. The Bombay Bangalore route has Air Deccan offering its 1 rupee and 500 rupee tickets;other than that the minimum price is about 2200.

For those who want to fly to Bombay from Bangalore (Spice also has a Delhi-Pune route), its a great "arbitrage" opportunity so to say. Fly to Pune, take a bus to Bombay. At peak hours, it could actually be a faster route. For those in New Bombay, it will be faster than travelling to Bombay airport given the proximity of the place to the Expressway.

Why doesnt an entrepreneur run a bus service coinciding with the timing of Spice jet? Or, why doesnt Spice offer this service in tandem with a bus operator.

It sounds like a spicy idea to me and perhaps many more such spicy ideas exist out there.

Indias print media runs scared...

Fascimile editions of newspapers are to be made available in India. And they cant carry advertising content aimed at Indian consumers. Ho hum. Thank god for the internet that we are not dependent on Indian newspapers. If the Indian media had its way, even internet sites of other newspapers would have been blocked.

Heres the piece from Businessline and a snip

...But the existing policy of disallowing publication of Indian editions of foreign newspapers would continue. "Indian editions have not been permitted because of apprehensions that the Indian newspaper industry will not be able to withstand the competition."...

To me, this sounds pathetic. The same newspapers which denounce the Swadeshi cartel, the SJM have lobbied to create the image that the poor newspapers in India cannot withstand competition! As if NYT would come up with a Hindi or a Tam edition or as if the TOI would be wiped out because Guardian opened an Indian edition.

Open up and fight the competition on your own turf.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chowpatty and Forum

Visited the Forum mall in Bangalore over the weekend. Over the past few months, crowd (footfalls for them) at the mall seems to have increased exponentially. The whole of Bangalore seems to land up at Forum and its 11 screen PVR multiplex over a weekend. The McDonalds there has a queue, as does the Pizza hut and even the food court is crowded. Soon, there will be a queue to enter.

Notwithstanding a few parks Bangalore really does have only a few options for a stroll, compared to, say, a Bombay or a Delhi or even Hyderabad. Result: The few spaces worth an outing are crammed with people.

This is probably the "Chowpattization" of an outing spot. Chowpatty beach in Mumbai is frequented less by localites and more by tourists to the city. Like tourist destinations, the moment an outing destination is crowded, peope begin to seek other destinations. Nothing like an air conditioned mall to while time away especially in the scorching summer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Where are these small businesses?

As we move from a frugal economy to a consumption driven economy, some recycle and reuse driven old businesses are shrinking.

The bronze (or was it something else?) vessel polisher, who would polish the bronze vessels has been pushed off the street by steel vessels and non stick vessels. The cotton cleaner, with his characteristic sound (cannot write it in words) can rarely be seen on the street, what with Kurl on mattresses being the rage. The bhandiwala who gave vessels in exchange for old clothes is an almost extinct species. Knife sharpeners are rare since few people ever sharpen knives. The junk newspaper waalah is still around as are the plastic recyclers. Cobblers will be around for some more time.

But for how long? Our tendency to recycle things is on the wane following the trend of many economies on the way to development. I hope that we dont lose the fervour to recycle and reuse things in the journey of the growth of our economy. Big Bazaar is one of those who sees value in junk.

Undiscovered tourist spots

Name a few hill stations.

For the persons in the west of India it is Mahabaleshwar, Lonavla and Matheran. Mount Abu is on the radar too. Up north it is Shimla,Manali, Mussorie. East means Darjeeling. South means Ooty or Kodaikanal.

Apart from these "touristy" hill stations, there are relatively undiscovered spots. There are quite a few hill stations that are relatively undiscovered. The "undiscovered tourist spot" is an oxymoron. What makes a hill station or a tourist spot undiscovered? Lack of crowds, yet good facilities. Now this is usually a paradox. If there are fewer people, facilities arent great. If facilities are great, then there are too many people.

Most of our hillstations are the same. There is one big landmark. (The Lake in Ooty, Mall in Shimla, Bushy in Lonavla and so on.) This is usually surrounded by the usual chat wallahs, sugar candy and other snack sellers. Very rarely do we see local stuff in tourist spots. Why? Because the average Raju who goes to the tourist spot does not want to taste, say, a puttu in Kerala, he wants to have chaat or masala dosa. He seeks amusement parks for children and so on. Then, nobody wants to stay in anything that resembles anything other than a regular urban dwelling (read concrete monstrosities) with creature comforts. Result? Lonavla, Ooty are cities on a hill top complete with pollution and traffic. So, one hill station ends up looking exactly like another.

The lesser known places are for the more adventurous where food can be tricky, facilities can be lesser and "sightseeing" tours minimal. The undiscovered spots are left for the avid trekkers, nature enthusiasts and adventurers who are more into exploration and roughing it out and not for the comfort seeking tourist. Thats why the beaches in Konkan/Karnataka coast are undiscovered since they are far from the comfort zone of the regular circuit and a great visit for those willing to go that distance. Ditto for some of the lesser known hill stations or some of the more obscure spots in the touristy hill stations.

What can be done? Well, eco tourism for one. Restricted development (easier said than done) for another. Perhaps home stay options and regulation of bigger properties. But the key is perhaps get to the locals better involved in conservation and heritage, so that our hill stations dont end up as cities on hills.

Of brands and ambassadors...

Every brand seems to have a brand ambassador these days. What is the big idea in having a brand ambassador? Vivek Oberoi may endorse Babool, but will that make a difference in whether someone like me will buy Babool? I mean, if I buy Babool, I would continue to buy it, even if Rajpal Yadav (no offence meant, the chap is a great actor) were the brand ambassador. If the brand quality is good, people will buy it.

A brand ambassador, with deft marketing and visibility, may ramp up sales in the short run, but in the long run, the product has to sell on merit. How may Versas were sold despite having the Bachchans to endorse it? How many Swifts are sold despite having no brand ambassador (I mean, even if there is, I am not aware of it. So much for hardsell)?

Sell the product, not the star!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Washington Apples anybody?

Apples in summer? In the peak of summer, apples are available all over India. This is not an isolated thing, it has been so for some years. They arent the regular Himachal apples; these are imported. Imported from US, Australia and elsewhere, these apples cost about 70 to 100 rupees a kilo and going by the number of shops which stock apples, sell well too.

I have spotted Washington apples, Gala apples from New Zealand and Australian apples (India is the biggest export market for Australian apples according to this businessline piece here). I havent yet spotted Chiquita bananas or Sunkist oranges. Apples for some strange reason (perhaps better shelf life) seems to the only fruit that is imported.

A businessline article here has some insight into this

...With most of the growing areas in the far north, the markets there absorbed the best and only the rest found their way down south....

If the north is "far" away, how is Washington US so near? Perhaps lack of cold storage facilities in India and perhaps because of the fact that it is summer now and winter is the season of apples.

If only we nurtured our fruit growing regions (Nagpur oranges, Ratnagiri Mangoes, Himachal apples, Satara grapes to name a few) with cold storages, better roads, they would realise better prices and we would get better fruits.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Fisher Price toys

Extrapolating the bicycle story, kids are today one of the biggest consumer groups. Pampered by parents and often, 2 sets of grandparents todays kids are more oriented towards brands and goods than they ever were.

Some days back, we were introduced to Fisher Price by a friend. They told us that Fisher Price toys are overpriced, but they are as child proof as it can get. We checked out kids toys at a store near us and found that there were quite a few good toys available from local makes to Chinese makes to Funskool to Fisher Price. It was easy to see what made Fisher Price attractive despite the price.

All rounded edges. Excellent design which makes it extremely safe to give to a child. No places where the child can stick his fingers in and get hurt. We picked up Fisher Price toys despite not having a clue about its brand except a word of mouth message passed onto us from a parent. I just visited fisher-price at their website. (The website is more than just a product repository and make quite interesting reading for a parent. Turns out, they are a Mattel Brand) Granted that childrens toys and accessories are some of the things that parents will never compromise on, even if it means shelling out a few extra bucks, but Fisher Price (I believe it is all imported, not locally made) brand has a story to tell every parent. Lots of lessons in it for other brands and not just in the toys market.

Carnival of the capitalists is up!

at Byrne's MarketView and yours truly has a contribution in it...

...neelakantan, author of Interim Thoughts... asks whether the world will end up speaking a single language. English is becoming increasingly popular worldwide (which is understandable -- more media will use English if English is popular, and English will be more popular if there are more media that can be accessed by using it)...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Bangalore, Bangalored?

A recent Businessworld (subscription required) carried a cover story on Bangalore. It also throws up an interesting statistic. In the last one year, 210 new companies opened shop in the NCR (Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida). The total of Bombay and Pune is about 248. Bangalore does have 195 companies that opened shop here, but the trend is here to see. Companies prefer to go where there is infrastructure (Bombay-Navi Mumbai-Pune and Delhi-Gurgaon-Noida) rather than go to one with a creaky infrastructure.

Going by the looks of it, notwithstanding Friedman going ga-ga, the demise of Bangalore appears imminent. Heres why:

Adios investments!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Will the world speak a single language?

For those born in the English world, who have lived all their lives talking and communicating in one language, the idea that the entire world may speak one language in a slightly distant future may not be very disturbing nor novel. For those in the non English world, it may sound a little disconcerting, but only so. For historians, culture specialists and others, it would be very very disturbing. From a global perspective, it seems like a great idea.

Lets take a case in India.For the record, India speaks many languages.
One generation ago, my parents were educated in Malayalam and continued in English after their 10th grade/standard since higher education is usually in English. A generation before that my grandparents were educated in Tamil.
I was educated in English. Today, I can talk in Tamil, Malayalam and read a bit of both. Most (all, I guess) of the books I read are in English. I recently read a Marathi book which was the first ever book I read in a language other than English. It will probably be the last one too.

During my school days in Mumbai, there were Marathi medium (schools which used Marathi as a medium of instruction) schools. The number of students who enrol into non English schools is decreasing day by day, atleast in urban areas. They prefer an English medium school since fluency (and not just basic understanding) in English opens many doors later on in life. I was educated in an English medium school with Marathi and Hindi as second languages. Parents (and students) in rural areas would prefer English medium instruction of they had access to such schools. And why not. English opens many doors (with the IT and BPO revolution, knowledge of English is more a necessity).

Rural areas are helping sustain languages, but how long and for whom? If people dont read regional language papers and novels, who will write? (For all practical purposes, active linguistic populations of these languages are more than many European nations), for how long? Higher education is in English in any case, since most research is done in 'English' so to say.

With the boom in IT, English is no longer a matter of choice, it is de rigeur. Notwithstanding linguistic chauvinists, it is only a question of time before English becomes the first language of choice atleast in India and perhaps the world. The position for second language may well be taken by our mother tongues, but over time, they may be reduced to dialects.

This trend has been observed not just in India I chanced upon a report from Australia. Is there something that should be done about it? Or is it just the ebb and flow of globalization? Even the Chinese are taking to English, so is English the language of the future global world? (as much as the French may fret and fume)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

e-ticket - Indian railways

Todays Businessline says that Indian Railways will introduce e-ticketing on an experimental basis on the Kalka-Chandigarh-Delhi route. IR is the second largest e-commerce transactor after Air Deccan.

e-ticketing has already been introduced by airways including Air Deccan. While this is a good move by IR, they need to rapidly introduce faster trains if they are to meet the competition that they face both from roads and air.

What IR does not have is an online cancellation facility. Tickets still have to be taken to an ticketing centre and cancelled. This is a feature that needs to be introduced to complete the cycle.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Kids bicycles and all that

Walk into an apartment complex, any apartment complex and let your eyes rove. Apart from the landscaped gardens, pathways, tot lots there will be one more thing that was absent from a similar landscape of a few years back. Kids cycles. During our days, much of bicycle learning was
through the cycle rent shop, where we rented out cycles for 50p a half hour or 1 rupee for an hour. There was the BSA champ with its trainer wheels, and some rich kids had it a generation back. Todays bicycles for kids are designer wheels. With carriers, colourful seats, plastic wheels, horns, Pokemon logos and whatnot. They have almost eliminated the once ubiquitous tricycle from the kids toy box.

That kids cycles are selling well can be judged from the range of kids bicycles on offer. Heres a look. Hero , Atlas , BSA for example.

As urban markets for traditional bicycles shrink and the bicycle moves into more of a luxury product in urban areas, kids bicycles are the first step. India is a fair while away from having bicycle tracks and trails, so the speciality bike market is still some way off, while the kids market is hot.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Better Highways + better cars = road trip tourism boom

Road trips were known only in the US. In India road trips are a chore with barely any joy in driving. Earlier road trips meant bus trips and usually for pilgrimages. The pilgrimage and native place type of travel has been steadily giving way to the pleasure and weekend destination
traffic. The only deterrent to this was uncomfortable bus journeys or bad roads to take vehicles out on. But with the advent of the GQ, road trips will see a surge. Even with a partial completion of the GQ, there is a large number of people who take their car out on weekends.

After struggling through the weekdays in crawling city traffic, weekends are the time to drive without stress. Enter the GQ. The stretches of highway which have been upgraded to 4 lane carriage ways are a joy to drive. These "customised to India freeways" are the best thing on highways in India.

With ever larger number of cars with better engines and speeds competing for spaces in cities, weekends are the time to stretch these out. The other fallout of this trend is the ever ongoing discovery of "undiscovered" hill stations and tourist spots. If everybody in the city ( for instance Bombay/Pune to Lonavla or Madras/Bangalore to Ooty) make a beeline to the respective destinations, it means these places get crowded. Hence, the craze for "undiscovered" and less touristy locations.

We stopped by a mango market just after Dharmapuri (TN) where local mangoes of multiple varieties were available in the ranges of 8 to 15 rupees a kilo. The going rate for anything that looks like a mango in Bangalore is 4 times that. More road trips mean more opportunities in
h(m)otels, markets, facilities for the travellers apart from the mango markets like the one in Dharmapuri. Smaller tourist destinations will mushroom, opening another chapter in the tourist boom in India.

Tourism departments of states note, the only thing you need to promote a destination is good roads.

Hindustan Petroleum bunks

As I drove into the red and blue coloured Hindustan Petroleum bunk to fill petrol, I did not expect anything different from any other visit. How wrong I was.

It was early morning and a newspaper was given to us. The windscreen was wiped clean without our asking for it. The attendant who filled air in our car (a Zen), checked the air pressure mandated for it with us rather than fill it by pure judgement. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the journey looking only for HP pumps whenever I needed fuel.

Auto fuel is after all a commodity. We do have branded petrol (Speed for example) and diesel, but better service like this at pumps can attract more wheels driving to your pump. What if I had a good eatery at a pump like this?

Tag!

My first meme and a break from my usual business economics posts. I was book tagged by Abi. So here goes.

Total books I own: I would put the number at about a 100 or so, but I have never really counted.

Last book I bought: A brief history of everything by Bill Bryson. I also bought, on a whim, a three volume piece on "Civlization and capitalism" - history of conomics/capitalism. Genome and Guns, Germs and Steel are my other recent buys.
Why did I buy them? I read Genome first, then Guns, germs and steel. The latest two books seemed to be tying in where the other two left off.

Last book I read: Recently finished reading "The Hungry Tide" by Amitava Ghosh. I prefer not to read fiction, but this was given by a friend. I read non fiction books, usually books which are recommended by my friends ( and there are many). Non fiction business, science are my favourite subjects. On my desk right now are Triple by Ken Follet (Shankar says it is good) and A Beautiful mind by Sylvia Nassar apart from Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart.

5 Books that mean a lot to me: I would rather put this as my favourite books.

1) Sherlock Holmes long and short stories: One of the few books I have read more than once. Engrossing to the core, it can really tickle your brain. A masterpiece by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

2) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, with its fable of finding treasure is another one of my favourites.

3) What they dont teach you at Harvard Business School, Mark Mc Cormack with its pithy advice on EQ is a great read time after time.

4) Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox is an entertaining read of a complex problem.

5) Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is a great book for its simple message.

Other than these, I am fan of Swami and Friends by RK Narayan for its great style of writing. I can read any PG novels end to end. I love books which make me laugh or think, preferably both.

Tag some bloggers to spread this virus: Shankar, Venky and Anupama

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Weekend reality 2


Reflections from the dashboard notwithstanding, this is how a road looks (Krishnagiri-Hosur) post the upgradation of a highway to the GQ, Golden Quadrilateral Posted by Hello

While we debate on whether the GQ is necessary at one level and in some cases whether roads are necessary at another and wonder if IT has led to the destruction of Bangalore, here is a piece from Indian express by Nandan Nilekani on his Beijing visit.

Weekend reality 1


Prior to GQ (Golden Quadrilateral)....this is how a national highway would look (rather looks, Dharmapuri,TN to Krishnagiri,TN). Posted by Hello

Friday, June 03, 2005

Reinventing oneself - Amitabh Bachchan

It was 1980, I was in my first standard and my uncle asked me in a playful mood, who is your favourite actor. I said, proudly, Amitabh Bachchan. And my uncle said, "By the 10th standard, you would have forgotten about him". By about 1990, uncles forewarning sounded true. Amitabh almost did not really matter to the Indian movie world any more. He dabbled in politics, morphed himself into a corporate entity and was almost lost. There were the Anil Kapoors, the Amir Khans, Shah Rukhs were beginning to blossom and it was the age of teeny bopper love stories. My uncles prediction loomed.

25 years later, today in 2005, he is still around. He is a formidable competitor to his son (actually not, since he is a bigger crowdpuller than most heroes any day). Of course we all know how he managed it.

Somewhere between the 1990s, he decided to "act his age". So whats the big deal? Indian heroes act as college kids forever. Caked with layers of make up and potbellies they refuse to move with their age. Amitabh was perhaps the first person to break this mould. Result: There are stronger roles for senior characters when Amitabh does a movie. With him are the many heroines of yesteryears who get a look in. So, has he redefined the industry again, as he did in the 70s, with his angry young man image? Perhaps yes. He entered televisions at a time most film stars shunned TV. He floated a company, ABCL, which was perhaps a little ahead of its times, among other things. It was not an easy journey, scarred as it was by his firm bankruptcy, his bungalow pledged to redeem creditors, but he made it and how. His firm is now on a firm footing, his creditors paid.

But the key here is about reinvention. Most people (like the mouse in the who moved my cheese) do not recognise that at a particular turning point, something different has to be done. One cannot keep on doing the same thing for ever. Amitabh Bachchan is one of those rare individuals who has reinvented himself at every step (and found success).

So, coming back to my uncles prediction, Amitabh still remains my favourite actor.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Cricket popularity - why?

Ever so often, we hear a familiar tune on the state of Indian sports. How cricket is hogging all the money and bandwidth and eyeballs and how other sports are neglected because of cricket and the excessive attention given to it.

But it wasnt always like this was it? Hockey was an all time favourite once upon a time. Football still has its fans. Did it so happen that one fine day, cricket matches began to be telecast and the people took to cricket? Is the popularity of cricket only to do with media? I personally think that it is not, atleast not in entirety. Cricket becoming popular in India has another reason that being cricket is perhaps the best sport that can be played (in India) on a casual basis.

Football and Hockey need a fair amount of space. Most places in India apart from the villages do not have them. Where there is space, multiple groups/teams congregate. Cricket is one of the only games that can be almost be played with a reasonable amount of interference from another game nearby. Purists may not agree with this but Check out Cross maidan mumbai and you will know what I mean.

In the constricted spaces of apartment complexes or urban townships, playing any other game would either mean that 4 people play and the rest watch, so the game that can be played would be the one that makes the best use of space. An L shaped compound is a great place to play cricket. A small space is also quite good to play cricket, underarm, overarm, throwarm... whatever.

Equipment needs are minimal in cricket. One bat, a ball and a pair of slippers for stumps. Sure football is close, but seen in conjunction with the above constraint of spaces, it is not. Why not volleyball or basketball? Again, specialisted surfaces are needed, or sand. Both are out of question in most places.Badminton is good for leisure (Remember Jeetendra and Leena Chandavarkar and "Dhal gaya din"). Tennis is elitist. Table tennis can be played anywhere but needs some specialised place.

Our playgrounds have little grass. Yes, come monsoon, it is easiest to play football, but thats only when the ground is too soggy for cricket. Cricket is perhaps the game that can survive in these maidans.

Cricket also has the big advantage of not having, any problems with a break in continuity. Imagine you are playing on a road (which is where a lot of cricket happens) and there is a car which needs you to stop the game and let the car pass. If its football or hockey, once there is a break, the rhythm is gone. with cricket, you move the stumps, let the car pass and start again. With cricket and close in fielders, it allows ample scope for banter between all the players involved which is another of is attractions. There have been other theories floating around like the fact that cricket does not need fitness, Indias abhor contact sports etc. etc., none of which I think are important as the fact that cricket utilises spaces most efficiently.

This is also one of the reasons why hockey will never become as popular as it once was in the villages. With open land becoming scarce, few smooth hockey conducive surfaces, cricket will hold fort as Indias favourite game for a while.

So why do Brazilians play football? Perhaps there is an answer there too! Or perhaps nobody introduced them to cricket!

"Concert"ed effort

The behind the scenes economics of concerts! Concerts are the vehicle for over the hill artistes to make money singing their few hit songs. It sure rakes in the moolah and is a lot less effort than creating a new music album. I was pretty sure that the reason why MJ and some other past their prime bands visited India and why did they usually visit India when they are going downhill was about money. This post at Dateline Bombay confirms it, and how.

In India, concerts involving "causes" are big. Of course, the idea to get some tax breaks while raking in the moolah. There was a wonderful piece in Businessworld some months ago on the economics of the spiritual channels like Aastha etc. That too was a neat revelation.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Rupee wise, Dollar foolish?

When costs are to be cut, why are companies "penny wise, pound foolish"?

In more than one organisation I know, the cost cutters first struck at free tea that was served to employees ( which saved them a rupee per day per employee). The next "big opportunity" they saw was "night snacks", which were essentially a hardship allowance for those who stayed back at work and not because they did not have a home to go to. Executives continued to travel business class and stayed at 5 star hotels. Marketing strategy meets were held in exotic places while the company associates struggled with spartan after hours transport.

Researchers toil in their labs at 25 degrees while the corridors were kept cooler ( because clients walk the corridors-wow!). Another company I know started charging associates for using company transport (a mini bus) and started to provide reimbursement for those who used cars to commute!

Air conditioners are switched off or run at higher temperatures. Wow! And I thought that cost cutting meant cutting excesses, not necessities. These are not isolated phenomenons, I am sure.

But the question is, why is it that cost cutting always looks insincere to the persons lower down?

Unfair in our favour..

The bus (or car) you are travelling in, just broke a signal. What do you? Thank the driver mentally for shaving a few seconds from the running time? Walk up to the driver and tell him to be careful?

Now lets say that we were in the opposite side and a bus(or car) breaks a signal. What do we do? Curse the driver of the vehicle which broke the signal? Wish him luck?

Most of us would keep quiet at best in the first case and curse the driver of the other vehicle in the second case.

We all want life to be unfair in our favour(as Calvin of CnH fame put it so succinctly in one of his cartoons) , so we are very happy if a few rules are broken so that our path is smoother, yet we resent if someone else does it while we dont get a chance to do the same.