Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The internet on the other hand

The internet has democratized publicity. Anybody with a keyboard can now go public with the news. No more editors with tinted glasses who try to put shade tint into news you get. But obviously, this has increased the "noise" in the system - there is so much noise in the system that it is difficult to figure out which is the signal and which is noise. At the same time, there are many outposts on the web which are just old media in new clothing - with the same type and level of spin that you would see in the media.

The counter argument to this is that, even in a regular newspaper, there is as much of a ratio to signal and noise - if not more. So, if you stick to credible commentators on the web, you will be better informed about the news that the newspapers put a spin on. Many a time local commentators give a better account of the news than the media.  So, if your choose your sources correctly, you can get the right news, sans the spin. 

And some exposes too. In India the exposes aren't very many, but in the US many sites have successfully called the spoof of many spin doctored events. Hopefully, they will in India too...

Manufacturing for the media

The media is an industry. On the one hand, for the media to cover, news needs to be happen. On the other hand, if a news is not covered by the media, then it is not news at all. That gives rise to a strange species of "news", the news that is created by/for the media. 

Many years back, there was a great deluge in Mumbai - 1991/92 and we had a wedding to attend. Obviously, not too many people made it to the wedding. A few brave souls landed up with their fineries wrapped in plastic bags, changed and attended the wedding. There was another function in the same building which had a handful of guests. Someone had a brainwave and the guests of the two functions were combined to create a wedding for the videographer - minus the deluge. So, unmindful of the water all around, the wedding happened with the people closing ranks and the camera taking only short range shots. I suspect that if one looked at the video wedding, you would never realize that it was a "video manufactured" wedding.

In the same way, a lot of agitations that are covered are agitations for the media - token protests, fast-a-thons, candle light stupidities and they dutifully get reported to us as news...

In the bargain, some real news gets shot down. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tax Return preparers

This news has been in the air for a while (a long time now actually) - that we would soon be seeing Certified Tax Return preparers, who are basically graduates who will help you and I file our returns. NIIT had bagged this mandate from the government. Why is this important?

For a variety of reasons. In any case Chartered Accountants have had a free run with helping us file our returns, using these very same graduates, so now there is a chance for some of these guys to do their own thing and get a better share of the spoils. Ideally, if it were like the US with e-returns, the whole process can be simplified further, but as of now we are further away from e-returns than we would like. And, as always, there is a surplus labour force that can be used smartly in situations like these.

Second, the presence of NIIT. NIIT has demonstrated that it can churn out salesmen and IT chaps alike. There is no reason that that model can be spread to include graduates. Perhaps NIIT can be used to train better tour guides and many other things. They can become the "teacher" of the nation, a finishing school for some professions and a creation school for others - almost like the ITIs in the service industry!

Customised T shirts

Want a customized t-shirt? Dilsebol can do it for you.

If you are creative or you want to have a t-shirt or a mug printed, just the way you want it, check them out. They have a pretty decent range of designs, so go ahead and create a t-shirt with your blog name or a caricature, it is a great idea. I have tried them out a few times and am happy with the t-shirts and efficiency of the service.  

And the best part, nobody on the street will be wearing the same thing...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Wednesday

Caught this movie last night and loved every bit of it. Read a review here, my favourite site for reviews.

I loved the way that the movie plays our minds on stereotypes and breaks it all. Awesome. 

Everybody who I spoke to about the movie absolutely loves it. They loved the hero who, in the face of an ineffectual government, does whatever he does. 

If this is the mood on the floor, it is not reflected in the media. Over the last few days they have gone into the usual spin mode after the recent terror incidents - Sample 1, Sample 2, Sample3,Sample 4. 

Meanwhile cross border trade has opened in full swing. 

Parallel universes

Yet another TV reality show, announced mother. And I, who last watched TV during IPL, wave it off. Did you see that news item, goes a discussion at the lunch table and I have no clue something like that was ever aired. The TV universe, cinema universe for some and the internet universe for me. This triggered off the thought that we all live in one universe/multiverse, but at the same time most of us live in our own universe. 

This happened last night as a bunch of us friends trooped off a 24 hour coffee shop to find a set of people who "exist in another universe". So many such parallel universes exist, our work, our education - our own echo chamber. When it intersects, suddenly we become aware of the existence of a different universe and then once that is gone, we go back, happy, to our own universe.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

How not to organize a sale

Or how to lose customers and enrage people. You turn up at a sale expecting discounts - well no, you happen to be at a place to buy stuff and it turns out that the place had advertised a huge sale.

50% off sale - the banners screamed, the advertisements shouted. And then you figure when you reach the shop that it is not 50% off at all, it is an upto 50% off sale (yes, yes, my mistake). And then you figure out that there are very few things that are 50% off and those which are 50% off are all old items, stuff which did not get sold which they badly need to dispose. Most All of the good things are available at the exact same price as they were available before the sale.

Landmark, please dont advertise this sale the next time - many stores offer a regular 20% off an all books even without a "sale". Even the little customer loyalty you have will vanish...

Raj Thackery, Kannada and Marathi 1

I had a conversation with a dear friend on the whole Raj Thackeray story and here are some thoughts post that.  As a Tamil from Kerala bought up in Mumbai and living in Bangalore, I am all and none of the above. I love the food and language and the culture of all these places. I think each of these states is amazing in their own right. But trouble is, in reality, people like me are nowhere. We are not "localites" in Mumbai or in Kerala or in TN, we are surely not localites despite being in Karnataka. We can speak the languages of all 4 four of these states (and then some) and easily pass off as a localite in any of these places, yet in this petty claims of identity, we lose. Each time there is some altercation on the street, the "local" bogey is raised - as if we are infiltrators in our own land. This has happened in each of these places and each time one side makes the issue into a local versus outsider issue, rather than an issue on who broke a rule. 

Yet, it is these sort of people who make India what it is - the people who are exposed to more than one type of Indias culture. And you realize it best in a place like Mumbai - Bangalore to a lesser extent. 

In Mumbai, nobody asked what language you spoke at home. Where you were from did not matter. You were a Mumbaikar and thats all that mattered. In Bangalore, I realized that people enquired and slotted you depending on where you came from, what language you spoke etc. That, to me, was my first experience in how it mattered. But being a Mumbaiwalla, I quickly sought and remained with other Mumbaiwallahs while other cities and groups and towns and streets and colleges congregated among themselves.  

Sadly, each of these cultures thinks the other culture is inferior. Indeed everybody thinks the other is inferior. In this whole shindig, we lose out on our commonality. The commonality of the nation, perhaps religion, shared history is forgotten. What remains of the commonality is the work that we do, where it does not matter what your background or foreground or forehead is. What you do is what matters and depending on how we do it, we get paid. 

Thank god for work...unless of course, you want to bring reservation in the private sector. 

My theory of cities

All cities/countries/places are "good" when you travel in a chauffeur driven air-conditioned car and live in hotels/guest houses.

If you really want to know a city, live there like the regular city dwellers do. Thats when you get to see the place, warts and all.

Cross border trade

This is the kind of stuff we can expect from the western neighbour- now that the PM is planning to open the border for trade, take your pick

Friday, September 26, 2008

CFL lamps

Falling prey to the hype around CFL lamps and their energy efficient, earth friendly ways, I have been using them for a while around my house. But my overall experience with them has not been very good. They dont last as long as promised; in many cases their life is less than the incandescent predecessors that they replaced. I am sure it reduced my electricity bill - but on a cost benefit analysis, I am not sure it passes the test. With a cost anywhere between 10-15 times ordinary bulbs, their life is pretty low.

Any similar experiences? Is it due to the thousand power cuts we have in a day?

A Bouquet

Guess who travelled in a Volvo yesterday...

Not bad. If public transport is good enough to transport bouquets, it is surely good enough for people...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Joke of the day

India, Pakistan vow severe action against terror.

As they have vowed 198273498 times before. Please read the full article, it has a lot of similar jokes inside.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Election spoils

It is estimated that 1/3rd of the electorate sells their vote in some manner in India. The piece actually points to a Livemint article. 

I would have thought that this was not true if it were not for the recent elections. A heard from friends of mine at whose institution - the workers from nearby poor localities had got cash from each of the parties. This was corroborated by a couple of others I know. 

Also, while on a trip to Tiruvannamalai, the overnight bus from Bangalore had an animated discussion between two guys on how parties paid people in the chaps locality money in the range of 500 to 1000 and how he took money from them and voted for who he wanted to vote in any case. 

Earlier, the whole thing was well known, now with the EC guidelines, it has gone underground...


Imagine, who wrote this and what does it mean. Seen on the side of a refrigerator package.

After words, candlelight

A candlelight protest against terror in Delhi. The terrorists nightmare - candles. With all due apologies to those who participated in it, please note that it is a pointless exercise. As pointless as Shivaraj Patils statements

Not only is it a waste of candle that can be used during the umpteen powercuts, the terrorists will not see any light. I mean, on the one hand is an ideology that wants them to wage war against unbelievers supported by a big stash of money and on the other hand is peace, huh?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Small is the new Big

If you have loved Seth Godins Blog and want a ready reckoner of the blog at all times Small Is the New Big is the right book for you. It is like Seths blog printed out and ready for your reference, whereever. 

Keep it with you, at your workplace, in your bag - keep it in a place when you want to read something that spurs you to do something, makes you think. 

Look alike

The sight of the look alike container at a barber shop recently, got me thinking. Once a brand gains prominence, other local brands imitate the packaging, container and make it look like the real brand. A fake brand is ready and many customers, especially if they are illiterate, cannot make out the difference. Many a time if you are not alert, even an educated person can be fooled. 

For an illiterate person, the way to identify the brand is the colour of the brand, shape of the container or some unique aspect. Infact, some marketeers have tried to emphasize the colour of their brand to aid localese. By duplicating this, the fake brand gets sold - with the complicity shopkeeper - usually for better margins. 

Thats how in the market you find Baba shoes, Tala salt, Raymona suitings and the like. 

The amazing thing is also how they locate their genuine brand. In this case for instance the barber looks for the logo of Marico on the lid - which for some reason the faker has not faked. He also showed me a real Gilette and a fake Gilette and I could not figure out the difference. It turns out the real one has a hologram, while the fake one does not. The fake one is probably a used container filled with foamy stuff - it smells nearly the same too - though he says it is different and he can figure out the difference. 

Now to complete the fakery, the prices are similar to the brand - so any suspicion of it being "local" disappears (thats where the margin trickery comes in, I guess).

The curse of roads?

Bangalore has a lot of roads that pass through localities which were villages once upon a time (and many still are). As traffic increases, people use these older roads. The moment they are tarred and smoothened, cars, lorries and everything (including their own) zip around these villages - obviously inconveniencing them. And they respond in kind by digging up roads, placing stones on the roads, building speedbreakers and the like. 

Many of Bangalores roads are being widened today. But it is useless as far as traffic goes because the police here hardly books anybody. One way rules are flouted, people drive over footpaths, vehicles take U-turns over medians, anybody can build a ramp outside their place if they bribe the local chap, parking is haphazard in most places - I can write 4 years worth of posts only on traffic here. Now in a lot places traffic signals are being installed - otherwise many places just have police to direct the traffic and obviously, with half a cop per intersection it is just not enough. People need to follow rules - gentle persuasion has not worked in Bangalore - all thsoe loudspeakers are useless. Rules need to be enforced with heavy fines. Unless that happens, more roads for a traffic sense less population is a complete waste of resources. 

It is not hard to see why Bihar rejected development for so long. 

Construction boom and immigrants

Close on the heels of noticing Bengali DVDs being sold in Bengaluru (delicious irony) I also noticed Vishwakarma Pooja being celebrated at many construction sites. (Afaik, Vishwakarma Puja is not so much of a local celebration - correct me if I am wrong.) Is it possible that some of our construction boom is also fuelled by migrants (of either legality) from the eastern neighbour?

After returning from the 28th India-Bangladesh Border Coordination Conference in Dhaka, the BSF chief A K Mitra disclosed that nearly 12 lakh Bangladeshis who had entered India on valid papers have disappeared between 1972 to 2005...This is one of the few official figures about the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants whose number has been estimated to be around 20 million and growing by the day. 

12 lakh is about the size of the IT workforce all over India - if that gives you an idea of the magnitude of the issue.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Narrowest footpath?

Is this the narrowest footpath in the world? In Bangalore? Seen anything narrower than this - not couting places where there are no footpaths? 

(Location: Indiranagar)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Are you an auto driver?

Do you like the Bangalore autowallah? The answer is an obvious no. The only autowallahs worth any respect are the Mumbai autowallahs, but that is a separate point.

The next question is, Are you like an autowallah - the Bangalore variety? Is your business like the autowallah? No, obviously not, I can hear you say. Attitude wise? Are you an autowallah? Heres a list:

Do you routinely send your customers back disappointed ?
Do your customers not feel like coming back to you?
Do you overpromise and under deliver?
Do you do your task grudgingly?
At the end of it, does the customer want to come back to you or run away from you?
Do you ask your customer for one and a half? (I mean, not obviously, but for every little thing, do you charge your customer?)
Do you take your customer where she wants to go or do you want the customer to come whereever you are going?
When the customer needs you most, do you just disapparate?

Thoughts that came to my mind, almost simultaneously, as I saw yet another customer fight with a rickshaw driver on the Bangalore street and reminded of my latest interaction with  a few service providers.

Our Hindustan Petroleum gas agency creates newer rules each time we try to book a cylinder - much like the autodriver asks for 10 rupees for every turn and their customer service is the regular black hole. Fill out a big form and wait. The last thought was because we are trying to repair our Kenstar water purifier and their website is down and customer service does not seem to exist. Then our BSNL Dataone connection. Two days in the last week, it was down. Customer service said they are helpless. Then another day it was slower than a Bangalore traffic signal, but no respite. 

All autowallahs of a different nature

Indian IT meltdown financial edition

Got a link to this (Thanks Sumant) today on the effects of the Financial meltdown on Indian IT (No, Indian IT wont end just as yet).

Sure, the cost cutting mode that these companies were in thanks to the rising rupee will now continue despite a falling rupee. Because business as a whole will be, slightly, harder to get. Also remember that much of these entities, bailed out, or otherwise will be looking to further contain costs, so work will continue to flow to India. So, in the medium run, there will be more work, but mostly fixed cost work and in the long run cost pressures will continue. No more profligate spending on IT. Expect the biggies to get bigger contracts in the long run.

The article says SAAS will be preferred. My sense says that the Google cloud will become popular at a personal level, but SAAS will never become Bahu. We have been talking about SAAS for umpteen years now and this is a gone case at the company level.

Yes, the trend towards open source will continue and I hope Indian IT cos take to it with more heart than they have till date.

So, for those who thought that this, will end Indian IT. No it wont.

Friday, September 19, 2008


On the high seas? In these days of modernity? Yes. And the Indian Navy wants a nod to pursue them on the high seas. Hot pursuit on the high seas? Sure.

So I googled to find out. Who are these pirates? Are they same Jolly Roger flying, rum drinking pirates? Or are they a mere euphemism for something else?

The Gulf of Somalia seems to be affected a lot. From this article

African waters account for 56% of all pirate attacks, spiking from 27 attacks in the first half of 2005 to 64 attacks since January. Meanwhile, pirate attacks elsewhere are dropping, reports the Piracy Reporting Center, a Malaysian-based group that monitors attacks for the bureau.

Hmm, so who are they? Some trawling brought to me something not very obvious from the above articles.  This article, free preview only, from Foreign Affairs, Terrorism goes to sea. The full article here, is enlightening.

Very interesting. A lot of dots that seem to point at just one thing...

A curious question

Just who was this Laxmanananda Saraswati, the VHP leader who was recently murdered? He was variously reported as an 84 year old monk and a VHP leader. But none of the papers ever carried any picture of his, not even a file picture. Surely not in Bangalore and surely not on the net. 

Even today, a search of him does not give you a picture. But our papers routinely carry pictures of people who are shot dead or killed. Why, they even carry pictures of terrorists families. So, what about this seer or his group? No picture at all? Why? Because photographs evoke sympathy? Balanced reporting anybody?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moser Baer and the Long tail

Moser Baer took on the movie pirates and launched Movie DVDs/VCDs starting 28 rupees onwards. That, is nearly the cost of the pirated DVD rentals per movie. That was some time back. Now the effects of it can be seen. 

Landmark and other local stores sell a lot of regional movie DVDs. That, by itself, is not surprising. What was surprising to me, was the emergence of a Bengali DVD market in a place like the one we stay. There are a couple of stores which sell Moser Baer DVDs of Bengali movies. They sell it with pirated stuff, but having said that, Moser Baer is more than prominent. The place we stay has a lot of new construction happening, many of the labourers seem to be from Bengal (hopefully not illegal migrants from the eastern neighbour), so it is natural that there is a market. 

But, imagine this. These labourers have DVD or VCD players. This is no surprise as I have mentioned before considering the price of a player like that and considering the price of an average movie ticket. Thus, Moser Baer, with its DVD has got the Long Tail of the Indian DVD market nicely wrapped with a  lot more steam left in it. More power to business ideas like these...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cothas Coffee

"Oh, you are going to Bangalore. Get Cothas coffee." was the request from the maami who looked like your atypical coffee connesseiur. Yes, I dont mean them like the ones who appreciate the Mocha or the Cappuchino, these are connesseiurs who appreciate filter coffee.
Italian? Thats the politician...

But I digress. From that single request and many newer requests later, if there is one thing people appreciate from Bangalore, this is it. For the past few years I have been here in Bangalore, no gift has gone more appreciated, than coffee at my home (and then some). Each visit from Bangalore to Mumbai, I carry along packets of coffee. This brand, Cothas, is a brand that barely advertises. I have not seen a single ad yet. Yet it is a brand that sells very well. Obviously, Cothas produces great coffee and it is very well known in Bangalore. Now it is pretty much word of mouth that takes it across cities and shores.

So, if Pune has its Lakshminarayan Chiwda, Bangalore has Cothas coffee. Dont return without it...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The newest weapon in the war on terror

After the latest serial blasts, taking a cue from the United States', new weapon, the government of India has decided to go after the perpeterators of terror. The weapon, newly acquired, boasting of new capabilities apologies is a statement. This statement is a modification of the previous ones which have been successful in relieving quite a few Indian citizens of their right to exist. The statement replaces the law which having been proved ineffectual in protecting terrorists lives was repealed. (On a related note, many sections of the IPC will be repealed, since they have also proved ineffectual and replaced with similar statements.)

The statement consisting of 135 nuclear armed army divisions words rained on the attackers yesterday late in the evening. Future terror attacks have been averted thanks to the statement which is a strong mix of old words and a terror template. The government was able to ready the statement at short notice after changing dates, place and number of victims. Terrorists have had sleepless nights based on the strong words used in the template. It made no mention of sleepless nights for anybody in the highest echelons both within and outside the government. 

The newest statement coming after about 1500 deaths and about a 100 blasts in the last 5 years after the last one issued six weeks ago is expected to have been the reason for the lull for six weeks. For six weeks, we stopped the terrorists in their tracks, claimed the spokesperson in New Delhi. They were aimed at the VIPs, he continued, but luckily, only a few honest citizens were killed in broad daylight. The government announced the setting up of a new wing of commandos this time to guard the VIPs who would stop to bathe at waterfalls.

Following this the government has initiated action on the Wi-Fi network provider, the keyboard manufacturer, the internet service provider and the mail account provider for aiding and abetting terror. 

An estimated 400 people of all religions have been arrested. No jihadis were arrested, since they ostensibly have no religion.

Jokes apart, it is a war that the government refused to acknowledge, much less fight. The Operation BAD  has been accomplished, they tell us - What if it was Operation Badnaam? or Ahmedabad? Nothing. Just wait, after all it is death by probability...

Friday, September 12, 2008

South Indian Co-operative bank

The South Indian Co-operative bank story is a story worth telling. This bank, apparently 85 years old at some point in time went bust in 2004. Since then it has been a sordid tale for many investors there (one of whom happens to be my father).

The profile of the bank depositors mirrors my dad. Mostly senior citizens today, most of them were first generation migrants in Mumbai who put their money in a cooperative bank ostensibly formed to take care of their interests - that let them down very badly.

Somewhere in 2004, it was discovered that the bank had too many NPAs or too low a net worth. On investigation, much of the money was found siphoned off to a few "needy" people, from the "rich" depositors - a common story in the Indian cooperative sector. As usual, given the Indian judicial system, the scam accused got away on bail, leaving the depositors, where they are today, in a lurch. The report here, cached by google, notes how the scamsters "languished in jail for 3 months". The depositors whose life savings is locked languish in life since 2004 and now stand to lose a major part of it.

(Cached from google, heres a link)

And then, salvation happened: The bank was decided to be merged with the Saraswat cooperative bank - one of the few respected cooperative banks (read the comments in this article). But that did not bring much cheer to investors.

South Indian Bank customers with deposits up to Rs one lakh each can now get back their money if they want. However, those having deposits above Rs one lakh will have to forgo a part of their amount.

Why is this so? Presently RBI deposit insurance rules goes something like this.

RBI provides deposit insurance upto one lakh rupees for all deposits, whether the bank is nationalised/ private/ co-operative. RBI typically merges a failed bank into one with substantial reserves - the reserves can be used to repay the depositors. If your net worth falls to a particular level, the RBI anyway thinks that you're a weak bank and demands that you be merged into a stronger bank and in this case you as a depositor pays for the bank or bank staffs complicity in a scam. (Thanks Aadhist)

What about the thousands of depositors whose retirement kitty has been reduced by half? Where will they go with a begging bowl? Where is the government in all this? Or do they only bail out banks whose depositors riot or have nice juicy political connections?

My two cents learning from this: By and large, do not put your money in a cooperative bank if you can get into a regular nationalized/scheduled bank. The chances that your hard earned money in a cooperative bank (regardless of its names, regardless of the charms of its agents, wellwishers) will go is higher than a regular bank. Why? Because, overall cooperative banks have lower standards than regular banks and intends to reach people who would otherwise be unbanked. (Tx Aadhist) So, if you are a regular person earning his money through the salaried route etc., you are putting yourself at a greater risk by putting your money in such a place.

Disclaimer: There is a little bit of personal interest in posting this story. Many depositors in this bank are known to me and most of them are the typical first generation migrant to Mumbai who ended up locking up their retirement savings in this stupid bank and lost it thanks to some scamster(s).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Security 2.0

Using the power of the people to be alert, especially in the age of cameras on every cellphone. NYC emergency system now accepts photos, videos. This is a smart move.

You cannot have CCTVs everywhere, but there are people everywhere. Go ahead, take a picture. Who knows you might just avert a terror attack.

Bangalore: 2025

Indeed, it could well be India 2025. Got this link via Churumuri where a WEF team painted an optimistic and pessimistic scenario for Bangalore in 2025.

Heres what the Cassandras - doomsayers had this to say:

They described a gloomier scenario whereby by 2025, Bangalore would become the backwater of the global innovation markets. How come? Having placed all its development eggs in the IT basket, the city had become an IT services sweatshop that peddles its white-collar services to the highest Western bidder. There is no real innovation happening in Bangalore as high cost of housing combined with nightmarish traffic congestions had kept both prospective investors and PhD-armed scientists at bay. Starting in 2008, political leaders who formed the successive coalition governments spent more time jockeying for power than investing in vocational education and reforming universities to promote
industry-academy cooperation. The result? By 2020, Indian IT vendors like Infosys and multinationals like IBM and Cisco had relocated their headquarters and R&D operations to business-friendly Indian cities like Chennai and Hyderabad.

The optimists were, obviously, thinking great. Regardless, says Navi Radjou, the government will have to focus on

1) Human infrastructure will become more critical than physical infrastructure.
2) Competition from Chennai and Hyderabad will heat up
3) The software industry alone won't create enough employment.

Pertinent points. I think that the truth as usual will be in between.

Bangalore needs to continue to be a talent magnet. Public transport needs to be improved on a war footing. The Metro is 10 years late, but it is still possible for the Metro to make a difference.

The city needs to expand - and the logical directions are the Bangalore-Mysore corridor and if the government is really smart, a Mysore- Bangalore -Hosur- Salem-Sriperumbudur-Chennai corridor - this corridor will integrate the manufacturing, technology, small industries and hi-tech segments in one go.

The big thing here, is that most of the companies are private, so they will, get moving so as to ensure that they are not just a one trick pony. I already see the biggies try their hand out at different things so that they are still relevant in 2025. As for companies, Bangalore is not just IT. There is architecture, biotech, research, design, textile and a lot of other stuff happening here. It is easy to make this assumption that Bangalore is all IT. It is not. It seems so when you see it on Google maps, but that aint true.

I would love to see 3 (or more) IISc like institutions set up on the lines of ISB. This is where the IT biggies can come together and set up an institute that has no funding issues, attracts and grooms the best of talents for the city/country, call it what you will...

I am an optimist...

VIP rules

All over India, we continue to have special rules for VIPs. VIPs can really be Very Important People, or just a laundry list of people who know VIPs who know VIPs who know VIPs and a list of people who know them. The definition of a VIP can vary. 

You go to Tirupati, VIPs get to see god faster without having to wait. You drive on the roads, VIPs get to go faster, because they have no time (or respect) for signals. VIPs, in general get more security since their lives are more valuable - the others can suffer a bomb or two under their seats.

Heres one in TN on bathing in a pristine waterfall

People in positions of authority or perceived authority often expect to be treated differently than the hoi polloi. Similarly, people who are rich (or richer) or know somebody expect no rules for them. This is the problem that we face. Everybody wants to become somebody so that they do not have to follow rules or wait for those who follow rules. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Human automation

Many years back, during the Ganeshotsav celebrations in Mumbai, we happened to visit this mandap near our house which had some "electronics". So, we trooped out to the place in full regalia - me, my bro and my mom. The USP of this mandap was if you put in 5 rupees you would get a ladoo from a Ganpati lookalike. So, we cajoled a 5 rupee note from my mother and put money into the hundi and sure enough a ladoo came through. My brother, in all his attentiveness, shouted, "Hey, there is a person sitting inside there." And sure enough there was - his job was to see that a 5 rupee came through the hundi and pass a ladoo through a chute provided to him. Also press a switch which would let of a set of bulbs and some music to create the "effect".

As I have mentioned before, Mumbais manual tollbooths are faster than the electronic equivalents in many places (and there are some really insufferable manual tollbooths across the country). Mumbais suburban ticket counters are manned by men (and women), who are machines. And they are faster than the vending machines. Dont try to engage the ticket counter person in any sort of small talk - unlike you would do in perhaps an other country like the US - here will be quick to shoo you off.

After all it is a labour surplus economy or a place where manual labour is cheap. Thoughts that came to my mind, as I read about the assembly process for the Logan.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Volvo moment

Almost every company worth its salt in Bangalore provides transport. Before some people jump the gun, let me remind you that the list varies from HAL - which is located as centrally as possible in the city to IT companies (anybody) to groups of companies (@ ITPL) to companies in nearby Hosur and others.

Why? Because if it were not for the company provided transport a majority of employees would never manage to reach work (don't even bother to add, on time). Yet, many people prefer to ride their own bikes and cars (that is part of a longer story).

This has been, in effect, the story of the city. Abysmal public transport waiting for a critical mass of users with users waiting for good public transport to drop on their laps. The Metro is supposed to be the panacea for all of Bangalores traffic ills, but while we wait for it, something else is doing very well.

But very recently, the BMTC started introducing Volvos - the first to introduce them intra city in India. Skeptics were aplenty. Too expensive, too elitist and what not. But take a moment to see the Volvos in the city during peak hours these days. Every Volvo which travels to the ITPL, E-city side if packed. During holidays, the Volvos to the city center is packed. Evenings obviously, leaving for home, the Volvos are packed once again. Whether it is due to the hike in petrol prices, whether it is due to the traffic or whether it is simply because the Volvo is the closest to reliable comfortable public transport in the city, the Volvos are here to stay. Affordable prices (surely less than a litre of petrol in most directions and a thousand times cheaper and haggle free than rickshaws), amazing comfort (nobody switches off the aircons and comfortable when the bus is packed with standees), very reliable, friendly staff in the buses too. I think that the success of the Volvos augurs well for the Metro, whenever it gets ready to service these high density workplaces (the current phase covers mostly random areas other than Ecity and ITPL).

I now suspect that the Volvo skeptics were all hired by the auto rickshaw unions.

Until the Volvos came about Bangalore public transport was an oxymoron. I can say this over and over again. True, there were bus services of various hues to choose from - ranging from the BMTC to private rattletraps to cab center jitneys, but the Volvo has truly made public transport respectable in Bangalore. More power to them. The next time you are in Bangalore, try them out...

And yes, they changed the way we perceived long distance travel in buses...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Some predictions

I knew we would get to see this headline, sooner or later

"Indian American whiz kid behind Google browser"

Based on that moment of clairvoyance, heres few columns/headlines that you can expect, especially now that the Olympic gold medal question has bitten the dust:

  • Why cant a billion Indians build a browser?
  • Why is there no Infosys, Wipro or TCS browser?
  • Why cant they all combine and produce an "Indian" browser?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chrome is the new

iphone of browsers? Black? Comic book publicised browser? Pick your cliche, but Chrome is here.

First impressions. Its elegant, minimalistic and has those nice subtle touches. 

Gone are the File, Edit, Settings that was almost taken for granted in any software. 
The "Open in new tab" comes up first, rather than second. 
The tab that you open from a page, opens right next to it rather than in a forgotten corner.
The homepage/new tab is a beauty....

More later as I test drive this browser....

A Bangalore breakfast

"Idli Vada, Khara bhat, Chow chow bhath, Dose, Rava Dose" he rattled off at the speed and noise of a bull being chased from the inner confines of a China shop. But that is music to the ears of a breakfast connoisseur in Bangalore. What better thing than a holiday to write about it?

For those of you who know (or dont know) Bangalore, breakfast is the second best thing that this city can offer. Many of the people who live here never have breakfast - the lovely weather - the best thing about this city - prevents them from waking up at that time. But presuming that they overcome the challenge of waking up in particularly pleasant weather, a wondrous treat awaits them.

For the regular gourmet like you and me - not the Pav Bhaji in a 5 star or an airconditioned dhaba recreated in a 7 star enviromnent - it is a treat. I presume that the "others" are not readers of this blog.

So, what can you expect in Bangalore? Idlis (or should it be Idlies or Idlys?) - soft and fluffy as they can be made with a textured finish. They are never ground completely like toothpaste, they have a grainy texture about them. They always taste fresh and simply melt in your mouth. Health freaks stop here.

Vadas - the biggest vadas in the country are in Bangalore. Round, generously big - a perfect Vada is brown and crisp on the outside - just right and obviously, very fleshy inside with a few bites of coconuts and chilli. No, they dont adulterate it with cabbage and onion, not yet, not here. Dont let cholesterol bother you, for now.

The dosa and the sambar - we can debate about it endlessly. Dosas are highly adaptive beings. In Bombay they are whitish, in Delhi, they are nearly spotless white. They are a golden brown in Chennai and a reddish brown in Bangalore. They are anorexically crisp in many places and plump in many other places (some coincidence that).

When it comes to Dosa my preference is for Chennai over Bangalore, though Bangalore is a second by just about a quarter of a Bombay dosa thickness. But the sambar is best served in Bangalore - with that undercurrent of jaggery. The discussion on Chennai and Bangalore Sambar can be a never ending one in certain circles. (Dont even bring the sugary sambar you get in Bombay into the discussion. That is not sambar, that is pani puri chutney.)

But coming back to Bangalore, there are dosas and there are dosas. The regular dosa is the "sada" dosa, the one filled with "masal" is the masala dosa and the one with onions spread on top is the onion dosa. The onion dosa is loosely similar to an onion uttappam, but there are places where you can see that the onion dosa is a lot of onions, coconut and small cut green chillies in a dosa whereas the uttapam has onions nicely mixed with the batter plus extra beings like tomatoes.

The other variants here are the "Set" Dosa, a set of three rather plump and succulent dosas. I hate the sagu and prefer the sambar anyday, but the sagu has a fan following itself. "Neer Dosa" is a slightly rarer variety, that can be found at ease in Udupi, but it is not easy to find in Bangalore. White to the point of being considered for a Rin ad, it has coconut water - hence neer and is usually served with a coconut jaggery combo. The Rava dosa is not really a dosa, so it gets left out of this discussion. It has its followers too, so do not underestimate it...

The Khara Bhath is the Bangalore version of the upma. The Khara Bhath is a grainy textured, spicy rava preparation and is never gooey like the upma. Served with sambar and Chutney, it is the lightest breakfast, this side of the idli. The Kesari Bhath is the richer cousin of the Sheera. The Khara bhath is always, served upturned - the measure is a small bowl and you get one bowl served upturned- sort of like a hot grainy igloo with coriander leaves and chilli on a green leaf base plate. And in Bangalore, you can get chow chow bhath - which is one bowl Khara Bhath and one bowl Kesari Bhath served upturned on the same plate. If it makes you cringe, do not - it is a delicacy on any hungry morning.

Aha, how could I miss the coffee. With a deft half twist off the monster sized "coffee filter", a huge drop of decoction with the left hand and a nearly overflowing (small) cup of sweetened milk sloshed onto it - the coffee here is the south indians dream come true. Starbucks, dont even try. Those espresso machines are, well, ersatz. This is real coffee, preferably served upturned with a tumbler on a "davara".

None of the hotels in Bangalore ever miss a step on any of these. The Vada is not a scoring subject since the varying oil content can make any calorie counter die of a mental heart attack. But the others are. Try out Bangalore for breakfast and you will know what you are missing.

And on that foodie note, wish you a happy Ganesh Chathurthi...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

India China and the stuff they make

Chinese imports were supposed to wipe out Indian products according to many a doomsday scenario. They were supposed to wipe out the Indian market like a dirty table at a restaurant, but they havent. Indeed, brand India is now stronger with shopkeepers suggesting, "This is made in India". "Not Chinese"

Even I thought that the Chinese takeover of India was complete - when I saw a Ganesha idol made in China (its Ganesh Chathurthi today). But it has not happened.

A lot of products are made in China, high end phones, cameras but they are sold by the brand where the branding is more important than where it is made (and this is a very big thing in India - more on it). But the real Chinese stuff - sold for its cheapness at the lower end - toys, cheap electronics - killed the Chinese goose for the middle class, the brand conscious class atleast. Most of these were cheap, not durable and people realized very soon that "what you pay is what you get." Indian items, though slightly more expensive than the Chinese was better in the long run. Cheap Chinese toys are still available, but overall what cheap Chinese stuff did was, it helped the Indian manufacturers gain some respect in the eyes of their countrymen.

Titan was first off the block - with cheap durable watches and Sonata has made a good name for itself - nearly replacing old guard HMT. With Titan, cheap phoren watches got relegated to the pavements.

Nokia has never been bothered with cheap Chinese imports - even after it started a plant in India to manufacture phones. Nokia is still Nokia - people dont buy it because it is imported or because it is made somewhere, they buy it because of the value proposition of the brand. Ditto for many slightly different products - Chinese bikes for instance or a Chinese car. People will not go for something that is untested from a reliability perspective.

Indeed many manufacturers are now using this as an idea, as I had noted some time back. They are using China as a sourcing base and giving it Indian/American names to come with a "product" of their own. What is the point of one more DVD player, unless there is a clear differentiator?

Indeed many of these brands dont sell, because, in India, the defining proposition is not just cheap, but cheap, durable and beautiful. (Sundar, Sasta, Tikau to use an oft repeated cliche.) Ask the Koreans...

How to capture the internet

Capturing the internet is a dream companies have. Many company wants to capture the eyeballs all over the net and get it to their doorstep. Get all those visitors to their one web site? How to go about it? How do you build that one site which will fulfil the aspiration of every jobless and expert and collegian and senior citizen? Eureka! Provide everything that the web provides under one umbrella website.

Now, dont get me wrong. I dont mean that newcomers cant capture the web, but the methods cannot be "same old", "same old". This is true everywhere, but especially in case of the internet.

So, heres case in point 1. See the picture, as CNN-IBN attempts to capture the web by giving you a mail id, all the videos and games, so you dont wander around the web and stick to what they have to offer? Nice eh?

Not. It is as muddle headed as trying to own Bollywood, or creating an India based SN or offering a mail id on your gaming portal. Trying to be everything for everybody and who better than Seth to explain it, leads you nowhere.

And on the other hand, if you follow the process, the web might well be yours. Read this and mull over it. Google Chrome. Eureka. CNN-IBN may want to launch their own browser...

Quick, start an amusement park

The plant is shut anyway....

The party runs an amusement park in Kerala (Development = Amusement park)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Base first?

or fully loaded first? Most items, cars or computers always advertise the product with the base version price prominently and charge the customer for every add-on. Which is fair and perhaps works well.

But what if I wanted the fully loaded version and the price point was higher? How about indicating that too? So, if I really liked the Inspiron notebook, I should be able to bring it to my price point (in all probability I wont), but why not surprise your customers with the fully loaded price and keep reducing it for them?

Mumbais skyline

This post really is about the textile industry of Mumbai. As I read through Travels of a T shirt, it was this that came to my mind. The city of Mumbai is almost entirely missed in the story, but then it is the same as the two Manchesters - having said that, it is still a story to tell. The ebbs and flows of business.

Textiles were the happening thing in India many years back and the place where it was all happening was Bombay. Being a port city, with its humid weather and fairly abundant labour supply, Bombay was a godsend to the textile industry. The textile mills were the hub of the local economy - that churned cloth that was exported and locally consumed. Around it chawls came up and an entire economy evolved. See this place from one of the local skyscrapers and some of it is easily discernible. Indeed, it might not be wrong to say that if it were not for the port and the textile industry, Mumbai would have been something else...

Though there was the textile strike (here) which crippled the industry, it must be said that they were, really, fighting a losing battle against rising labour costs, increasing mechanization. Thanks to the strike, many workers lost their jobs the industry moved out of Bombay - scattered to other low cost centers across India (by which airconditioned looms were the norm - so the dependency on natural weather was gone) though, textiles never ruled the roost as they did in Bombay.

Today, in Mumbai, the textile mills are almost entirely slowly, but surely being replaced by swank offices, malls, apartment complexes - in a cycle of development that has been repeated across all textile centers across the world. Manchester US, Manchester UK.

Nothing to feel sorry about, it is a natural cycle of economic and technical development, but a tale nonetheless, to be told. And how, Mumbai, as the title of the chapter in the book is but a "sister in time" to the other cities where the industry faded into extinction.