Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sakrama scheme

The Sakrama scheme, recently started by the BBMP is a neat way to allow people to get away with land grab. It allows one to regularize all violations. Violations like building without a sanctioned plan or building with deviations from the sanctioned plan (you get a plan sanctioned for 2 storeys and you build 11 or 15) .

Obviously many are happy. Imagine having to pay a fraction of the market value and getting land grab regularized? Some are not, but their voices are drowned.

These are the exact kind of violations that have made Bangalore the urban nightmare it is today. The land mafia, including politicians and their sons and families have latched onto the soil in a big way. Lake beds are being encroached upon, lakes are being filled, government land is being usurped and all norms are thrown to the wind. Of course they say that this is a one time thing, but like the VDIS, there will always a second coming, either now or 10 years later.

In any case, as we have seen in Delhi, politicians will never move against violators since they themselves are a part of this whole scam and so it will continue.

Leela gets it

It plans to open luxury hotels in pilgrim centers. That is a good beginning since most pilgrim centers are pretty bad in terms of facilities. Though, I think there is a better chance for someone on the lines of Ginger coming up with a pilgrim hotels chain - earn bonus points each time you go to get a darshan of your favourite god!

More thoughts on pilgrim centers, here and here

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Coffee thoughts

At one point, I thought that filter coffee is unbeatable and I still think when it comes to Indian coffee tastes, the filter coffee is perhaps the best. (Tip: Especially at South Indian weddings or at local Bangalore restaurants)

Instant coffee, well, I dont even count it as coffee (falls in the same category as powdered milk).

But the new coffee vending (no, not those horrendous powder water mixing contraptions) machines - the kind used by Barista, CCD and certain office pantries - can give filter coffee a run for its money. (The machine is, of course, a coffee filter with a lot of thingamajigs)

Previous thoughts on coffee, here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Ambassador and Kerala

Go to any taxi stand in Kerala and you will see rows and rows of Ambassadors lined up there. Not Sumos - which are big as BPO cabs, not Qualis - which even after production has stopped commands a good price in the used cab market, not Bolero or even the Maruti van. Even today, in circa 2007, when the Ambassador has all but died a death on most of Indias roads, they are still conspicuous by their presence. The two taxi drivers I met had bought brand new Ambassadors in 2006. Yuck, you would think. I asked them what made them buy this behemoth. I personally, am not a fan of this vehicle, hence I was intrigued...

First, the total cost of ownership is just about 3.7 odd lakhs. Now that is cheaper than most other compact cars too. There is no power steering, but an AC is available - smart. The passengers get their comfort, the driver can get by without power steering. The first seat is a bench - unlike any other car - though the Sumo and others have basically bench seats in their cab versions - but the sideways facing back seat makes it a difficult bet (this is my thought) for the Sumos. Also, cabs are meant to be "cars" and maxicabs are "jeeps" which might be another reason for the Ambassadors survival.

The handbrake is on the right side of the driver, so 2+1 seating is comfortable in the front. The back seat, in any case has been the one strength of the vehicle in terms of space as has the boot. Apparently, the vehicle, also has what these chaps classify as "pull" - torque. The Ambassador delivers the best torque for the cost - the Qualis is of course the best. Repairability, also, is a point since with bad roads, rains, mountain roads and lack of too many dealers, the roadside mechanic does a good job with the vehicle. All in all, low total cost of ownership is what matters to these guys.

Who can challenge it? The Logan or the Indigo perhaps have a good chance...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You know the market has gone bonkers when

the product is sold for not the product but for what is offered free beside it.

What am I talking about? Washing machines? No. DVD players? No.
I am talking about apartments.

Over the last few months there have been a flurry of advertisements in the papers, media about Orange properties. It first came out with a scheme of a free car (SX4 - no less) for all apartment owners. If that took your breath away, they came with an Audi A4 for villa buyers. Then it came up with the idea of quarter kilo gold for every 2bhk booked and a half kilo gold for every 3bhk booked. Obviously, there are riders and whatnot around this and going by ads released, they are surely getting eyeballs, talked about and even selling a few thousand square feet in the bargain.

There have always been similar schemes in the past. Quite a few builders have offered items ranging from cutlery sets to modular kitchens. The simple question I have is, there is very clearly no such thing as a free lunch and everything is paid for by the customer only? Yet, why the freebies?

Karnataka and Bihar

John Elliott ( blog now here) sums up last weeks coalition drama thus on his blog, emphasis mine

Meanwhile in Karnataka, a BJP-led state government that took power just a week ago was brought down yesterday by its coalition partners because of a disagreement over allocation of ministerial portfolios. “Fight over rich ministries fells Karnataka Government” said a neat Hindustan Times headline this morning (Nov 20). The Janata Dal (S) party, led by former prime minister Deve Gowda, pulled out of the coalition because the BJP would not agree to let it have lucrative ministerial posts covering housing and development, and mining – posts that are always coveted in governments across India because of the largesse they bring from would-be licensees and contractors.

Karnataka has now had three governments in as many years and is sinking rapidly into the sort of administrative torpor more usual in the blighted northern state of Bihar. That is bad news for a state which has as its capital the showcase city of Bangalore, where big IT names such as Infosys and Wipro are located. No wonder IT companies are expanding elsewhere.

That the JD(S) is all about real estate is something that is an open secret in Karnataka. Truly a son of the soil party, their focus has been land or the oil extracted from it. No wonder they wanted these lucrative ministries to milk them for all it is worth. They have nearly torpedoed the BMIC project and tried to best to deprive IT of land. I hope the voters give it back to them.

For the citizen on the ground it is a nightmare scenario each day. Traffic snarls in every conceivable direction, bad roads (some improvement noticed recently), corruption in all possible places, Bangalores huge water problem, electricity worse than rural areas. The only hope is that elections bring good governance to Karnataka which has been conspicuous by its absence over the past few years.

Related posts, here and here.
Read Churumuri for some posts on this, here

Monday, November 19, 2007

Acronyms

With the nataka in Karnataka coming to an end, it is perhaps an appropriate time to take a look at some acronyms.

Cong (I) - Cling onto Nehru Gandhi (Indira)
Congress - Cling onto Nehru, Gandhi, Rahul else Selective Secularism

BJP - Basically Jostling (for) Power

CPI(M) - Chinese Parasites in India (Mostly)

JD (S) - Joint Development (Sites)
JD(S) - Just Daddy (Sons)

Couldn't think of one for BSP...any thoughts?

Update: Thanks to the comments below, here are some more:

NCP: Next Comes Pawar (SRK)
DMK: Devotees of M Karunanidhi (SRK)
RJD: Rabri Jaayegi Delhi
AIADMK: Amma Is Antidote (for) devotees of M Karunanidhi (inspired by SRK)
BSP: Behenjiki Sewakakonki Party (Deepak)

I also liked Clueless Puppets of China (Morons) (via)

Friday, November 16, 2007

IT doesnt benefit its own people

The latest in a series of accusations that keep getting levelled against the Indian IT industry. (via, where the points below are listed...) Unfortunately, this comes from the top boss of a company I admire, L&T, but what has to be dissed has to be dissed.

Does L&T do all its projects in India? Clearly not. Is Infosys the only Indian IT company? Clearly not. TCS, Wipro are doing good work in India. So why pick on Infosys? That way, all EOUs export hundred percent of their output. Is that wrong?

Talent drain is a problem, or is it the people typically go to the place which offers them a better salary? Whether that is abroad or within India, unless it is a socialist economy (god forbid) where a bureaucrat in his limited wisdom allocates people to different industry, this sort of disparity will remain.

India gets only 17% of its GDP from manufacturing. Why? How easy is it to set up a factory in India? Hire people? Fire people? All this is easy in IT. Nobody knows till when a job will last. The IT industry flourished because the government was out of it. If the government got out of manufacturing, manufacturing will surge. But they wont, not with the leftists tail wagging the dog.

Why do IT companies sign up civil engineers? How do they do it? At gun point? No. Then the civil engineers sign up for slaughter? No. Clearly it is an opportunity they have, which they believe is better than what the manufacturing companies give them. And to your point, L&T has some very strict guidelines for engineering applicants - as a (non) participant in their recruiting process many years ago, I myself know that.

Why do they (IT companies) pay better? They make more money, simple. Their economic model (based on labour arbitrage for all I care) allows them to. Also, why is it a crime to pay better salaries to people? IT companies changed this perception in India - till which point employees did not get half decent salaries. If you like your engineers so much, L&T, please pay them well so they will stay with you. Give them stock options. Create a good work environment. (Again, L&T is a good place to work, but many other manufacturing industries suck.)

"The least that the politicians can do is stop cutting ribbons in the outsourcing industry." No, they least they can do is cut some ribbons for the manufacturing industry as well. Lets not talk about limiting opportunities for others, let us talk about creating.

A word to churumuri and the good professor here,

Wise heads like Prof CNR Rao have bravely spoken out against the long-term damage that we could be causing to our society if all our best and brightest end up doing the same thing—writing code or answering phone calls because the money is good. What happens to linguistics, sociology, geology, history, philosophy, etc?

Please read this...

At the end of the day, I need money first, then job satisfaction. What makes anyone think that a job in an assembly line is satisfying? Job satisfaction comes, as per Maslow's theory, a little higher, once the basic needs have been met. A job is a basic need. First I need to make a living, then I will worry about changing the world.

The economics of Bangalore

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha writes on the economics of Bangalore. (via) The article is good from a theory perspective - as to why outsourcing happens - because of transaction costs as proved by Ronald Coase.

But that theory is applicable to the whole of India; indeed Bombay, Delhi and Chennai too - which at the beginning of the offshoring boom where largely better developed than Bangalore. But Bangalore trumped them all and does so even now to a great extent though the three cities (in tandem with Navi Mumbai/Pune, Gurgaon/Noida) are picking up.

Why did that happen?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Only Vimal

The once iconic brand is preparing to make a comeback. The linked article is a well written one from Businessline. The big question- will it succeed?

The brand is attempting a comeback after 7 long years - but from a memory perspective, perhaps longer - an entire generation perhaps. For the previous generation the market was something different. And remember, even for them, Vimal was about sarees and fabrics. The market has moved from there into the readymade segment, so Vimal will have a tough time convincing its customers that it "has it".

My take is that the premium market will be hard to crack. It is a very crowded market. Arvind mills, Madura and even Indigo nation have made a mark there, as has Raymonds. And we are not yet talking about Provogue, Reid & Taylor and Colour Plus etc. What will take me into a Vimal store? Curiosity.

In those days, there really was "Only Vimal"; today it is not only Vimal but a lot of other brands. Arvind has a whole panoply of cleverly overlapping brands in this segment. So, just a generic Vimal might find the going tough. Also, cotton is a big selling point in menswear these days - Vimal was never all about cotton - and even today it is not, apparently as per the article.

My take is that Vimal should build more its brand equity in the womens segment, which is something that clearly lacks a good player with decent, predictable quality and a great range.

But regardless, it will be a nice battle to watch since, after all it is Reliance at work.

Related, more thoughts on shirts...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hollywood writers strike work

How about that? Apparently the writers last went on strike in 1988 and that resulted in the birth of realty shows; they did not require scripts - as if the others do, meandering in their magnificence.

Marc Andresen has a nice analysis here (and an even better follow up). Ze Frank does his take...

But to the question as to what route will this take in terms of innovation, I have an answer. Contact Balaji Telefilms for outsourcing all those soap opera writing to India. They barely have a script and yet have hundreds of similar soaps floating all over the TV channels in India!

Business Today wakes up

and makes its online presence, free (via here with a good analysis of the site itself). Till now, you had to go through a subscription wall to get through - so you know how many of them did. Theres a good set of materials available on India thanks to the financial newspapers (ET, FE, BS, Mint) apart from blogs and magazine sites. So, if you chose to wall yourself in, do you lose or gain?

The papers were always free but the first (and only?) mag to do it in India was Business world and of course, globally the trend has been to "go free". NYT did it recently, as did the Economist. WSJ is looking at this trend very closely.

Heres how I think the business mags in India stack up on their online strategies, from an earlier post. (An update is due on this post...)

The curse of the free lunch

A classic by Tim Harford, worth a read again.

Will answer all your queries about subsidy, zero taxes and anything else you have desired for free.

Read and puke

The Economist, the grand old magazine, publishes a typical article on India. Sandeep has a superb post on this article.

The article starts and stop at the Gujarat riots - something which has been forgotten even by the Gujaratis as this rediff article laments.

Heres another gem, when you want to rationalize anything.

"But ghettoisation has radicalised the women in the resettlement complex. They go to the mosque more often and talk approvingly of Osama bin Laden. The otherwise mild Ayesha also praises Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader “who died for Islam”

Oh really, is it ghettoisation? Or is it something else? Well, the whole article is so pathetic, I cannot spend any more time dissing it. Read it and puke.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cellphone companies

are very smart. They know how to milk the customer. But there are, surely, a few things they could do very well which they dont.

For example. You have a customer who is roaming. They send this stupid, inane welcome message - Welcome to Andhra Pradesh for example. I very well know I am in Andhra Pradesh. Can they not send me some information I can use (and make money too) ? For example, in a highway in TN, I saw a couple of emergency numbers listed. Can that not be a part of a 'Welcome' message? Or, if you are travelling along an NH, I would find it far useful to get a listing of eating joints or petrol pumps on the way.

For example, if I enter TN via NH 7 (Hosur road), they can easily send a message telling me a few important things - like an emergency number, a hospital number and some such, instead of sending me a meaningless welcome message each day...

Maybe the railways

saved 20,000 crore rupees (give or take a few zeroes), but can they not install dust bins on trains? Or are windows meant for throwing out stuff - since only the air conditioned bogies typically have dustbins?

The upper berth on three tier bogies is so cramped, you have to land into it on a horizontal position and slither into it. Anything more and you will be seeing out of the roof.

Is it so difficult to maintain a consistent order for bogies for all trains and publish it on the web, so people are spared the ordeal of a train coming in reverse? A train I saw came into the platform with the engine in front (thank god), luggage, unreserved coaches and then S12 appeared instead of S1 and then you had the familiar sight of passengers running helter-skelter searching for their bogies. Thankfully this train had vestibules, so many people just go in and dragged their luggage until they reached their place.

Can you get the trains to run faster please? Now, trains run on time because of buffer. Read the time table carefully; for every train, you will find a short distance run of a few kilometers being given an outrageous running time. So, if your train, god forbid, arrives early, then, it is punished by getting to wait at a siding in no mans land.

And then some, all in the course of an overnight train journey...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Let him be the first to cast a stone

who has not sinned, when it comes to becoming a newfound critic of globalization. There are far too many people, who basically subscribe to a left winged point of view (not left brained view - the two have no similarity whatsoever) and use it as a basis to criticize globalization.

The voices against globalization are the shrillest from the uber citizens. The page 3 chatterati, the so called sane voices and intelligentsia who voice their opinion while sipping on Aquafina or wearing Crocs (Nikes is infra dig). Those, who claim, occasionally (meaning, at every occasion that presents), via their blog or magazine column written for a foreign newspaper that globalization is bad for India. Refer Anti globalization aunties.

Heres who should be ruled out. If you drive, you are out. Why? Well, there is no car, that is completely indigenous. Why, even the Scorpio and Indica had technical/design collaborations. Indeed the IC engine was invented by a foreigner. Oh, before I forget, much of the petrol also comes from abroad, Reliance notwithstanding.

Almost nearly, if you eat any thing fried in Palmolein, you are out. Why? Because most of the palmolein comes from Malaysia. Oh, btw, we have also imported wheat recently. Maggi noodles? Nestle is based out of Switzerland. Never mind those Washington apples or Kiwi apples. Italian olive oil for your skin? Stick to coconut oil.

And if you use anything than Kolhapuri chappals, you are out. India has never designed anything other than mojris. Sneakers were not invented in India, as was mineral water. Aquafina is a Pepsico brand. Bata is a Czech brand.

Btw, isnt what you are wearing, slightly "non-Indian"? Shirts and trousers were never invented in India - they are, well, foreign. (You can explore other garments and you will find a simple answer, NIH - not invented here).

Now, of course, I know what you mean. You mean selective globalization is allowed, right? Aha, but there aint nothing selective about this whole deal. You either live in your cave or come right out. And then again, you perhaps mean inclusive growth, the latest mantra? Check out this lecture and this. Are you an NGO that wants foreign funds for globalizing? Well, the dollar is a foreign currency again.

And sorry again, for if you are reading this - this is globalization personified. A blog hosted by Google (American, shriek) on a network managed by IBM (Big blue for gods sake) written over a Chinese computer, seen via a Korean monitor via an Indian service provider.
And no, leave the phone where it is. Indias largest phone brand sold is Finnish...

Tata small car, Tom Friedman

He writes in the NYT, no, no, no, dont follow us.

Why should you care what they’re driving in Delhi? Here’s why: The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.

To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.

Point taken, but taxing just the small car will smack of discrimination. Tax the small car and the Skodas and Mercs burn the roads? Smart. Tax all cars then? Well, thats no alternative, then people would never get to anyplace since public transport systems are nothing short of pathetic. Sunita Narain, worried about pesticides in soft-drinks and cheap car on roads. How about tackling lack of drinking water for a large of the country and some other real problems?

If the government thought like Tatas, we would have had cheap mass transit systems in all parts of the country within 60 years of independence. There is barely one and a half city which has a functional metro. The rest of the public transport in the country is worse than cattle and cabbage.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Most trusted brand

in India is Good Knight. Yes, the mosquito repellent brand. Not toothpaste, soft drink or a car or the cricket team.

(Incidentally, in Turkey, it is a football club and a dairy in Argentina and the state owned mobile phone service in China)

In hindsight it seems very likely in India, since the chances that a mosquito repellent brand touches more lives than any single brand of milk or car or toothpaste or mobile brand (and does so effectively).

Firecracker arbitrage

It's Diwali time and that of course means firecrackers. Everybody wants to make money on those who are willing to splurge on firecrackers. The amazing thing is that firecrackers are available throughout the year, but during Diwali the demand for it goes up (in the absence of a sufficiently turbocharged word) like crazy. Prices also, typically go up with the demand. (Interesting question: Does anyone know how firecrackers came to be associated with Diwali?)

This year, prices seem to be substantially higher - and there is a "fair price" element in them. The bigger brands sport a "no child labour" sticker on them. (Not sure if this was prevalent before). Interestingly, even all products from a manufacturer do not necessarily carry this label. (Then, if your factory employs children, how can you isolate a product and claim it is child labour free?)

But this is about something called firecracker arbitrage in Bangalore. (It is a serious source of income for many college youth in Bombay - exploiting the difference between wholesale and retail prices - I will leave that for a different post.). So, if you buy firecrackers in Tamil Nadu (a short ride away from Bangalore), you get a, hold your breath - 85% discount on the MRP. Many families pool together and get a car load of crackers and save money despite spending some on the petrol. So, those who sell in Bangalore, atleast some of them, offer a 60% discount (or more, but always less than the 85% in Hosur - since presumably, thats where they source from). Customers are happy getting a 60% discount, obviously, so are the sellers. So, in any case you can make 25% by buying crackers in Hosur and selling it in Bangalore (Ceteris Paribus).

Which leads me to a few thoughts.
If you have paid the MRP on any firecracker, you have been ripped off considerably, especially since the MRPs seem to be outrageous - I did hear that prices would be higher this year, but they are really crazy. (For instance, a box of 10, small, zameen chakkars, are marked at 170 rupees).

Once you factor the discount, the prices seem saner. So, why not put in the actual prices upfront?

If the dealer gives an 85% discount (you pay 15 rupees for an item thats marked as 100 rupees, so the above mentioned zameen chakkar would cost you just about 25 odd rupees) , how much money does he make? How much money does the factory make? So, what is the actual mark up?

Why is the mark up so much in crackers? Any ideas? Is it because people like Diwali discounts? Any other products that have outrageous mark ups or do all products have huge mark ups? (I had heard shirts have a 100% mark up at the dealers and at the factory level.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Landmark of a quiz

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the Landmark quiz. It is quite a draw in Chennai, I have heard and I finally was able to attend the one in Bangalore yesterday.

The teams were a motley crowd to say the least. There were the usual suspects - the regular quizzers - and they are of course, really good. But more than them, were the school kids who turned up in uniform hoping to be a David to trounce the abovementioned Goliaths. Also, there were all women teams, there were inter-generational (father kids, mother kids) team (imagine a team with 50 odd years of collective knowledge) teams and family teams and college teams and what not. All of them, there, because they love quizzing.

Why is this a big deal? Today, quizzing is a big business. The only place where you can have a free quiz is in college - and then you cannot enter into it once you are out of college. Or you have the corporate quizzes which either have an entry fee or for which you need to be a corporate. None of these are bad for quizzing nor bad from the perspective of the spirit of the event.

But there are no quizzes like the Landmark one. You form a team of three, register and turn up and no entry fee barrier. So, you wanna partner your dad or uncle, great do it. Amazingly, there was a team of three teachers, all women, who made it to the finals yesterday and one "family" team and it was very very refreshing to see, as Derek O'Brien put it, "people who dont all look like each other."

More power to events like these...