Thursday, October 30, 2008

Divisive powers trying to halt country's progress

In the aftermath of yet another serial bomb blast in Assam that was our Prime Minister.

Not sure if he was referring to his own government...

Meanwhile the 12 lakh illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about...

Chronicles of the moon, Narada and what not

Here is a landmark article on Chandrayaan. There are but two sentences in it on Chandrayaan, the rest is all the stereotyped, "India is a land of tigers and snakes type mumbo jumbo". Thankfully, he does not mention poverty or farmer suicides.

It looks like he is a specialist in connecting mumbo jumbo to everything.

(Note to myself from next month: Don't collect pieces you don't like and put them on your blog. Put stuff you like.)

Assorted links 1

Kerala is slowly going to be in the terror trap, if it already isnt. The current theme seems to be to blame everybody else. Don't blame those who are funding these idiots by the droves. Pull wool over yours and everybody elses eyes, bury your head in sand, live in denial. Wring your hands, but "Gods own country" is rapidly going to the dogs. Tourism, terrorism make for a very potent cocktail.

I don't believe this news that Chandrayaan is inspiring scientists to come back, though I have seen variations of this in many places. What takes the cake is the headline. The detail below the headline actually tells nothing of that sort :). Chandrayaan can send something to the moon, perhaps even people at a later date, but can it get scientists back to India? Perhaps not. The slowdown could, though. Did they go because they were disgusted that India could not send a probe to the moon? Unlikely.

A footnote in LICs insurance policy on terrorism is being used as a selling point. Sad reflection of our times, please note Mr. Home Minister. What if a suicide bomber buys a life insurance policy, will he be eligible?

Deny the competition

From Chennai to China, they all do this as Seth Godin says. Pretend that the competition does not exist. When you ask for information, they will tell you that they don't know. Hoping that you will compromise and buy whatever they have. Nope. Does not work. Ever. Not only do you not buy but you go away with a bad feeling about the market.

Yet, there are markets where shops will gleefully direct you to a place where your needs will be met - ultimately benefiting you, the referrer and even the market as a whole. But it is like rainwater harvesting - seems pointless if you are the only person doing it while others simply let the water run off. But when they all do, the benefit is very clear. Water for everyone, but until then, it is a drought.

Many companies do this too, but in a different way. I am marketing. I am not service. I am just a dealer. I cannot help you with a brochure. I don't know where your product can be serviced. Well, your customers are running away to someone who can help...

Terrible Columnist

Why are some columnists terrible? Here is one, peddling tripe after tripe.

"The state-run banks that were seen as sleepy, bureaucratic and prehistoric are the ones that the newer entrants might model to get service right " was the opening line yesterday. To write this in 2008 would require an enormous vacuum in your knowledge. Now let us see. Sleepy bureaucratic bank would be the nationalised ones - no prizes for guessing. The newer entrants would be the Citibanks, ICICIBanks, HDFC banks, right. Now out of those ICICI was founded in 1994 (14 years ago), HDFC Bank (ditto) as part of RBIs liberalisation initiative in 1994. Citi has been around in India longer than that. The newest bank which entered recently was perhaps Kotak Mahindra bank (2003) and perhaps Yes Bank (the only greenfield bank licensee in 14 odd years). But anyway, thats a trivial amount of detail to bother with when you have already made up your mind.

Previously, the columnist had commented on lack of innovation in pretzels and expressways India while eating at the nearby 5 star continental Dhaba which had not changed its menu since the English left.

This is what happens when you are paradropped into India because of the experience of having been born here and asked to be a reporter.

Read blogs people, they are far more authentic...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Security

While the security of many politicians have been raised to Category Z; the security of the common man goes to Category ZZZZ.

Numerology

What do you think when you see a title like Yuvvraaj? When it really should be Yuvraj? Will people see it because of the title? Will the movie be good despite the title, because of the title or inspite of the title. It has a whole bunch of marquee names behind it, from the director to the actor to the music director. And now, of course, numerology. This movie has to be a hit...

To me, numerlogy smacks of lack of confidence in oneself. Or ones product. Will more people read Interim Thoughts if I spelt it, Iinterim Tthoughtts?

Now, numerologically, what can someone rename the Sensex so that it moves up? Sensexxx?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hand me down economy

Some (subjective) years ago, when I used to go to school, we had a syllabus change. Every year, our English textbook changed - that meant a fresh, new textbook was served up for us. That was bad news (for me and the teachers too, I guess).

Until then my textbooks were handed down from two students, each senior to me. So, two students had neatly marked out all the answers of the teachers questions. Teachers change their notes only when the syllabus changes, so when I got my textbooks, I got all the answers marked out. Especially important for English and History. With the changed textbooks, I had to mark all the answers, a pain when you want to finish your homework at the highest speed possible before you hit the playground.

The hand me down network continued, not just inside families and extended families, it continued within a community or just like minded people. So, we got used furniture from one uncle while we passed on some of comic books to another cousin. It wasnt barter, it was more of giving away something that was too good to throw away and had a considerable use left in them.

Even today while you will hear of phones and other stuff being handed down, usually within families, it has gone down. Many in the previous generation would agree with this. In any case, there was a strong element of a hand me down economy in a lot of our dealings - a natural thing for Indians to do, or so I thought. But as the country prospered, consumption increased and some of the hand me down things became part of trash. There is, still, undoubtedly a significant hand me down component in the economy. Most colleges for instance have a nice hand me down system in place.

And now that the whole world is talking about sustainability, reuse, recession perhaps it is time to revisit the "hand me down" economy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bored of small things

Got this link from Sandeep. Published in 2002, worth every word even today.

Thank the internet that you get to read a piece like this. Our local media still lionises people like this whenever they submit a skilfully written statement, readily publish any token activism that such people undertake without ever showing us the other side of the story.

Related post.

A new shirting retail model

Zerostock retail, a name that took me by surprise when I saw it recently. Even more surprising was reading about them online. Interesting business model that attempts to reduce the cost of carry at multiple locations. And provide customers the benefit of the same.


Their shops are not large - they dont need to be- but spacious and uncluttered. Obviously, because they dont stock shirts or trousers. They have samples and trials that you can try and pick you size. And it is a good idea because when you go to a regular store, a design that is available in 42 may not be available in 40 and so on. And it takes a while of searching before it is available sometimes. Also, in general mens shirting and trousers are conservative. Yes, there are dress shirts and party wear, but for regular business wear, there is only so much you can do. So, it is really a step away from ordering online.

Good ideas also demand good execution. When I went some of the designs I chose were not available - presumably because instead of distributing the stock, they have stock at a central warehouse, so it is not exactly custom made. So, they need to get this right because customers who walk into a store that promises multiple sizes expect availabilty in all sizes.

Two other things. One, sometimes it is tough to figure out how a shirt will turn out once we look at a 2.5 by 2.5 inch swath of fabric. My guess is that the shirts that are hung on display are the maximum designs that get sold.

Two, there is no instant gratification. The shirt or trouser you ordered reaches you after a day or two. Both these are big mindsets that the company needs to break.

But a new idea ought to be encouraged. More power to ideas...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The (legal) spider web is for the insects

But the sparrows can fly through.

If you are a person who invests anything more 50,000 rupees you have to comply with KYC norms. KYC, means know your customer. You have to go to a bank branch with your id proof and residence proof and PAN card. The bank is now sure that you as a customer exist and has all your records. So, if with all the hard earned money that you have, if you are part of some scam, the government will come to your doorstep with full force. The spider web is set for us insects.

But guess what, if you had sufficient money (of any colour, currency) to get the money through an FII (register it in any place, Cayman islands for instance) in the form of a P-note, there is no KYC. At all. You can be anonymous. The government does not even want to know you. And best of all, you need not even own the shares. Play all you like. The FIIs move the markets, the aam investor gets screwed. SEBI had moved a draft bill preventing this, but the government with all its wisdom has decided to repeal it.

Wonder who is "influencing" the government to do this?

Previously the government has been "influenced" enough to not demand bank records from Liechtenstein, "influenced" enough to let an Italian fugitive get away, "influenced" enough to let the conspirator behind the Parliament attack live despite a sentence awarded by the highest court.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why join the police?

Tarun Vijay in the TOI. I am glad, as I have said before, that the TOI gives space to people like him - shunned by the media because he is "right wing" and therefore unlike "the "rest".  Incidentally his columns get an amazing number comments in the TOI.


21st October was National Police Memorial Day. 
Did you hear about it anywhere or read any news article or discussion on it? 
It’s celebrated in memory of those police personnel who laid down their lives on this day in 1959 when Chinese soldiers suddenly attacked Ladakh. 

I had no idea that 21st Oct was National Police Memorial day. 

This year, 685 policemen have died while performing duties. All in vain? Faltoo ke log ? ...

To date, we do not have a single government website giving details about its martyrs from the armed forces as well as the police. No memorial to Indian martyrs has even been planned in the capital ...

Any surprise that we have all the statues and roads in memory of Aurangzeb and Krishna Menon, the villain of the 1962 war, but none named after the heroes from the forces. 

The IT industry has suicidal tendencies

would have made for a better headline than "Indias tech capital is stressed out" but then, hyperbole sells.


A source from the HR department of IBM said that pressure on the employee cannot be avoided as “all the foreign projects have tight deadlines and in order to achieve this the companies exert high pressure.” They also said that “every company had special programmes to ease the pressure, which sometimes did not work.” Sheetal said that most youth become quickly depressed as their family structure has been de-prioritised. The high expectations from their parents coupled with the lack of an adequate social life also contribute to the rising suicide rates, adds Sheetal.

Ho hum...Is the cause only work? Then we are an amazingly uni-dimensional society. 

Another one on hyperbole: IT execs marriages on hold

Did nobody show them this news report from their own site? No job cuts in Indian IT

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dalal Street Menu

Save Puri
Bail Puri

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chandrayan and "The Telegraph"

Heres' what the Telegraph has to say about India's Chandrayaan

"Greeted with patriotism in the media, the launch appeared to have distracted India from an economic slowdown, collapsing stock prices and outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence"

Granted that all the above happened, is this still not a moment to savour? Or a good time to play Devils advocate? As Seth Godin says, "The Devil does not need an advocate."


All I can say to The Telegraph "Hahahahahahaha "

Wednesday Satire

Heres how you would write a piece on Bangalores Volvos if you were a certain Spingupta. Not sure why nobody has done it yet. Looks like I have to do it myself.

As the big red Volvo bus trundles into the bus stop, I cant help but notice a certain swagger to it. The driver and conductor are clothed in a white uniform complete with epaulettes - why, I wonder. The bus stops and the doors swing open - no creaks, no half open doors - perfectly, unlike any other thing in this diverse country. I and a whole bunch of people troop in, in an almost orderly fashion to occupy the seats. This journey from Banashankari in Old Bangalore to ITPL the Bangalore techies heaven will take a little over an hour in airconditioned comfort. After a few minutes of waiting, the bus begins its stately journey on the roads. Did I say stately? Make that swaggering.

This is Bangalores volvo - the bus service that has got a lot of uber techies to give up their bikes (mostly) and cars (few) and take the bus. The other buses, the blue and white buses used by the other half are like any other public transport in any other Indian city. Crowded and unreliable for the highbrow techies to use it.

The big red bus with its immaculate controls that lets it get closer, accelerate swifter and brake faster is a terror on the roads. The bus is like the upper caste on the roads and one can imagine lower caste vehicles giving way to the Volvo in an almost medieval replay of the caste divide. The driver treats the other vehicles like dirt, now honking furiously - almost shaking a fist, now getting extremely close to a family on a bike - I close my eyes to see if they are still alive; they are. Outside there are slums, people patiently waiting at bus stops for the "other" buses looking at the denizens inside the volvo as if they were inside a zoo; species they are not accustomed to. The people inside the bus return the state, looking literally down at the roads.

If there is an India shining, the bus epitomises it and the other half, well, the other 90% of the road epitomises the India that is not shining as brightly. Inside the airconditioned bus - the aircon works perfectly the crowd is the Bangalore the world has come to believe. Almost all of them are techies dressed in what is known here in IT parlance as "Business casual". Many of them carry laptops or mobile phones. Some of them are plugged into their ipods, some absorbed in a conversation or some staring with disdain outside the window. The women, dressed somewhat more colourfully, are otherwise similar to the men in the bus. (Looks like the blackberry types are in their cars - there was nobody in the bus with a blackberry or an iphone for that matter.) I look around - I see no indication of any caste differences in the bus. The seats are similar though there is a raised section at the back where the men sit.

Almost all the techies in the bus appreciate the new service. It is priced at a premium - almost double to triple of what the ordinary blue creaky buses cost. And it succeeds in keeping the riff raff out. The conductor scowls at any person who comes near the bus with a bus pass that is used by ordinary travellers. Even inside the bus, the passengers do not talk to strangers. They keep to themselves. There are no friendly hi's or hello's. Nobody wanted to as much as talk to me, the greatest spinner of all time.

The bus reaches its destination, ready for its return journey which must go half empty because not too many travel back so early from work. It is no coincidence that each time there is a disturbance in the city the Volvos are the first target and the BMTC takes it off the streets. The other half, for whom India does not shine, take out their anger at the Volvo for stealing business from the unscrupulous autorickshaws, the rattletrap private buses.

Off to the moon

Yes, we have other issues to resolve, poverty, farmer suicides as we have been reminded in virtually every article like this since the moon mission was announced, but, we are off to the moon.

Critics say it is a waste of money for a country where 800 million out of a population of 1.1 billion live on less than $2 a day and where child malnutrition is on a par with that of sub-Saharan Africa. Advocates of India’s space programme, however, argue that ISRO makes money from commercial satellite launches and its scientific benefits have played a key role in the development of the country’s information technology industry. [Timesonline]

But, seriously, take a look at the space program in perspective and read for yourself why this is important for us as a country. [Also see]

Take, for example, India's six remote-sensing satellites - the largest such constellation in the world. These monitor the country's land and coastal waters so that scientists can advise rural communities on the location of aquifers and where to find watercourses, suggest to fishermen when to set sail for the best catch, and warn coastal communities of imminent storms [New Scientist]

Add fiction writers turned activists (or is it the other way round), mad journos, leftists, elitist professors, Dark India marketeers to the long list. Once we get this right, we can send this list to the moon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bangalore Land Mafia

"The Godfather of Bangalore": A neat article from Wired.

Not seen anything like this in the Indian media.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Credit cards and penalties

Recently, I missed paying my credit card bills by a few days and was promptly slapped with a penalty, service tax and then some. This, from a bank of which I have been a (good, timely paying, "preferred"?) customer for almost 5 years with their credit cards, home loans and banking divisions. I did not intend to default, it was a genuine mistake. On calling them, the charges were duly reversed, but have they not heard of something called customer experience? Or were they trying to scare me? I was ready to cancel my card, if they did not understand my genuine mistake. All in all, it left a bad taste.

Surely, there should be some system of rating customers for the bank so that they know who is a wilful defaulter and who is not? And surely, these two sets have to be treated differently? Or perhaps the idea is that if they pay, take it What ever it is, the point is, it does not take too much to lose a customer in this day of a zillion banks and every bank hankering to give good customer service. If I cancel this card, I can use another one.

Banks should not make the mistake of assuming that they are the only one for their customers, especially taking for granted the ones who have been loyal customers for a long time. Instead they ought to capitalize their relationship with such loyal customers. But, who will change the "rules?"

Customer service

Spoke to an Imint customer service chap today. From Aug 22 until October 13 my request has been delayed for some "unknown" reason. Nobody knows why. My suggestion - hire a detective. Chap says give me 7 days. Lets see what happens. Clearly this has to be the worst rewards program on earth.

Question to all so called customer (s)care centers. When a customer is calling you with a problem, does he feel happy to hear that "all the customer service executives are busy?". I usually think, that the service sucks so much that there are so many customers calling up with problems. And having said that - remember this is an unhappy customer - is the next thing to do play your signature tune and market the "next best thing" you have come up with?

My experience with customer service has been less than satisfactory. Many products have an email id on the side on which you can write to them. I first wrote to Karen Anand products on a jam which I purchased - which tasted quite bad. I wrote to them and got a standard templated response. Ditto for Lion Dates - in a pack in which I found insects. Same templated response. But, if its any consolation, atleast they read the mails...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A comma here, a dot there

and you can spin the news as effectively as Muthaiah Muralitharan spins the ball.

See this screen grab from the Google news site yesterday.

Maoists killed Lakshmanananda, say Orissa Police says Chinas national newspaper.
Maoists were hired to kill Laxmananda: Police says the Press Trust of India.

Both true, but one, a little untrue than the other...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One more ban

After cigarettes, alcohol and water, the minister for health and other bans has now banned eating out. (No, not the Bajrang Dal, even though the last name suspiciously sounds like a food item.) Eating, henceforth will be banned in all government establishments or public spaces. A national policy on consumption of food in public places will be implemented soon. "See", he argued, "if you cannot drink water in public, it does not make sense to have food either. Having food without water can cause a lot of ailments."

This had been an ongoing discussion, he said. People eat out in all parts of India paying good money for food that they would otherwise have had for free at home. It is wasteful expenditure. They really ought to learn to make their own food. When pointed out that many people do not carry dabbas or do not know to cook or live in places where there are no kitchens like PG and hotels, he said that having a kitchen is a must. How could anybody not have a kitchen? What if you suddenly want warm water in the night? You cannot get it outside now, so every place must have a kitchen. One reporter who did not wish to be identified conceded that the minister was seen scribbling furiously in his notebook after this exchange.

He said that while farmers were dying in various places in the country unrelated to the economic crisis, you could simply not have people eat in public. You want to eat, eat at home. The sight of the McDonald advertisement with a titillating burger can really influence a hungry youngsters mind into junk food. Banning junk food was not a solution, he said, banning all food was. It is tough to classify junk food as junk. These lobbies have too much influence. The only way is to ban all food consumption in public. He stated that also under contemlation was if, the paper used to wrap burgers would now need to be printed with grisly images of artery blockages.

If you logically see, from the water ban, the food ban has to follow. You cannot ever have food without water. Is there smoke without cigarettes? Also, food has to be cooked in water. So banning food follows banning water. As it is these food places are a health hazard, even without eating the food. All those food courts in malls, they encourage people to smoke after a good meal. They should all be banned.

It has already banned gratuitous eating scenes from movies. Everybody knows that a Shah Rukh Khan does not eat Vada Pav from a hawker. Amitabh has stomach problems. All this has to do with food, he reminded. When pointed out that they play their characters in movies, he shot back, "Show me a single person who sees movies for their characters. Everybody knows it is SRK and AB. Besides, it is also a waste of food in the countless takes and retakes."

(This one para from Nitin modified slightly) Dr Ramadoss stated that calling attention to fighting malnutrition, infant mortality, infectious diseases through the improvement of the national health care system is playing into the hands of the tobacco, alcohol, bottled water and packaged food and restaurant lobbies. He hinted that these lobbies are very powerful and had so shaped the UN's millennium development goals (MDGs) so as to distract attention from India's real health risks: cigarettes, alcohol, food and water.

A Secular Protocol

Read this piece by Tarun Vijay in the TOI


What struck me, was this:

Like history can't be understood through secondary or tertiary sources, original references have to be consulted, watershed incidents in a nation's life have to be analysed through original events. Hence after Meenakshipuram, the forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, Godhra and Kandhmal murders, its now the turn of Bodo Hindus in Assam to face Muslim attacks. 

So far 40 Hindus have been reported killed and 76,000 people have left their villages out of fear and taken refuge in 32 state government camps in Udalguri and Darrang. Twelve villages have been burnt. In Jhakuapara village the gaon budhaa (village head) was burnt alive along with his mother and sister. It all began after local Hindus resisted the forcible occupation of their lands by Muslims. The area has suddenly seen Bodo Hindus reduced to a minority and a spurt in the activities of the All Assam Minority Students Union (AMSU), SIMI, All Assam Muslim Chatra Parishad and Muslim Students Association (MUSA). Now, having burnt Hindu villages and forced them to flee, Muslims are occupying the villages vacated by Hindus. 

I trawled through every single MSM site (all credit to TOI to print this piece) and I did not find anything like this. However, a local site, Assam Tribune has a different version than the MSM and I am inclined to believe it because MSM is ruled by leftist hacks.  See Here, here.

So is the MSM misleading us? They did not do so here, then why here?

Battling inertia

Why cant the railways get the airconditioning formula right based on occupancy, temperature outside and temperature inside? It is either too hot or too cold regardless of whether it is summer or winder. The aircon vents can barely be "directed" and people who sleep on the lower berths have no way of controlling the temperature even remotely. Even buses have individual AC vents. Is it so difficult in trains?

While on trains, is it so difficult to give an update in the train itself as to how the train is doing as per its schedule? Atleast in one or two places? Why can "management expert mantri" not think of it?

Do prominent sites like TOI, Indian Express still need irritating pop up ads that exhort you to download a screensaver or tell you that you have won a laptop? The reputation of these sites is pretty solid and they make decent money. Do they still need popups? Just because they outsourced the website project to some chappie who projected revenue from the site, does it mean they include popups? Why not think different?

Malls and competition

I love markets. No, I don't mean vegetable markets and fish markets and the like, but markets in general. See this post by Rashmi on Inorbit - pretty close to the place in Navi Mumbai where I frequent. The Hypercity is huge, ginormous like the US stores. For each Biyani who thinks clutter is the way to go, there is a hypercity. Now, who do you want to be?

Indeed there are 3 malls near the Vashi railway station and each of them has free parking now. Howzzat?

In any case, Navi Mumbai has grown up to have a life of its own and then some. So much, for a mangrove swamp of many years ago...

War nerd

Heres the War Nerd on the western neighbour...


And here he is on the "nuclear war"

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Wonder that was India

I borrowed this book recently from a friend and really liked it. The book Wonder That Was India, often accused of being a right wing hack, is a delightful read. It takes a look at the society that existed in India mostly prior to the various Mongol invasions - a faced of history often ignored. Covers pretty much the whole of India.

This is the second of the books which I have read on Indian History in the recent past - the first being John Keays India: A History. This book is an engaging read and quickly zips through the history of India from Harappa to about the 90s.

Reading these books really gives you an insight into the real history of India - which our textbooks never capture. Enjoy...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kerala and Flat world

Either Frederick Forsyth has some prescience or India has an excess of blinkers. A terrorist or wannabe terrorist from Kerala gets caught in Kashmir. Yes, while we shout about national integration, another group wants national disintegration.

Heres an interview with Tom Friedman on the "Flat World"

The flat world is a friend of Infosys and of Al-Qaeda. It's a friend of IBM and of Islamic jihad. Because these networks go both ways. And one thing we know about the bad guys: They're early adopters. Criminals, terrorists – very early adopters. The person who understands supply chains almost as well as Sam Walton, is Osama Bin Laden. We have an issue there with the most frustrated and dangerous elements of the world using this flat planet in order to advance their goals, to recruit over the internet, to inspire over the internet, and to transfer orders and raise money over the internet. So they're using the flat world as much as anybody else.

Lets all quickly bury our heads in sand and create the latest state in India - Denial.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Original and piracy

Just when you thought that Moser Baer got back at the pirates, the pirates have leapt ahead in technology (and quality).

The latest is 3 in 1 movie DVDs, followed by 6 in 1 movies and, hold your breath, 30 in 1 DVD disc. Phew! I wonder how the latest prints reach the pirates unless there is some sort of nexus somewhere.

Whereis Assam?

Is it burning? See this report from ET - whose reports on politics are quite refreshing. They ask the questions that a lot of regular reporting does not ask and does not want you to ask.

The death toll in communal violence in Assam touched 40. Over 1 lakh people shifted to relief camps. However, the Centre does not seem to have any complaints as far as the state government’s response is concerned.

The Union home ministry is in touch with the state government on a regular basis but does not yet feel the need for any advisory or written communication to Assam chief secretary seeking ‘concrete steps’ as in the case of Orissa and Karnataka.

On a related note, Times Now seems to be "different" from the "other" channels. Which is a smart move from a marketing perspective considering the nauseating coverage of the other channels with each channel sounding exactly like the other.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mobs and riots

Over the past few days there have been reports of mobs attacking police stations and the newspapers have gone to town talking about how people are venting their frustration on the police etc. From this report:

Roy’s observation comes days after Muslim mobs had targeted the police in the communally-sensitive town of Malegaon last Monday following a bomb blast which killed four people and injured scores when Muslims broke their Ramzan fast. Again last week, Rabodi in Thane district was hit by communal violence over the location of a controversial Navratri arch. Asserting that the area had been simmering with Hindu-Muslim tensions for a few days, some locals accused the police of not acting in time to prevent trouble. Fresh communal trouble broke out in the northern town of Dhule on Sunday, forcing police to fire in the air and impose curfew.

How does the police tackle a mob? How can they?

The reason mobs are successful is because of anonymity. Every person who participates in a mob knows fully well that he would not do something that he does in a mob if he were alone. The anonymity and the fact that police do not and cannot identify the 20000 participating persons(Deputy chief minister R R Patil was grilled on the action planned against the rioting mob but he pleaded helplessness, saying "What can one achieve by registering a complaint when a mob of 20,000 people attack policemen?'') makes it easier for a mob to vent its fury on any cause or rumour (usually).

The police needs to get innovative here. For one, more than bullets, cameras - high resolution ones are important. If people know that their actions are being recorded, there will be fewer mobs. Once the riot subsides, get them all, create a police record for all of them. That will deter these adventurous rascals.

Second - use dyes instead of water cannons. A dye that can penetrate clothes and can be sprayed on mobs is a good idea. The dye should not indelible or atleast take a few days to wear off. Once the riot subsides, it is not too difficult to catch the rioters.

Drones that can capture wide areas with high resolution is another idea. With the budgets that the police gets, this is highly impossible, but an eye-in-the-sky will make people think twice before rioting.

A stink bomb is a smart idea, instead of tear gas.

Meanwhile in Mumbai

...there is a big fight on.

No, not the MNS and the Shiv Sena, but between Goli and Jumboking. Both are standardized offerings of Mumbais favourite street food - vada pav. Goli and Jumbo king have spiced it.

There is a burger like avatar available too - with circular buns instead of the rectangular pavs and the vadas more burger patty like than spherical. The restaurants look neat and snazzy with uniformed workers, standard decor and vada pav comes wrapped in paper, a la McD. Want the garlic chutney and fried chilli without which no self respecting vada pav can exist, sure. If they have learned this from Big Mac, they have learnt it well and at price points of 6 and 7 rupees and above, they make McDs stuff, appear, well, pricey.

Who says you cant get prices down and give better service. I tried both and quite liked it - the vada tastes like vada, not some piece of rubber like burger patties often are. Jumboking has jazzed up the old vadapav in many flavours. Care for a cholle vadapav or a Schezwan Vadapav - I might try it sometime.

Now, how will the original vada pav vendors react to it?

Past, present and future

Gandhi is not just the past, but the future too, reminds this Congress poster in Navi Mumbai on the occasion of the original Gandhis birth date.

Coming at the time of a certain Mr. Rahul Gandhi (no relation to the original) and impending polls, it is an interesting message...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mobile care

I have not been a great fan of the way customer service centers in India operate for mobile phones. Everybody is keen to just sell the phones without thinking that they would need to be serviced. Nokia seems to have done something about it.

But the way they have done it, reminds me of a sarkari bank. You stand in one queue take a token, fill out a form, wait for your turn and then they give you a time, you call up, ask if they are done etc. etc. Overall, a totally old world experience from a new world firm.

To their credit, they accept cellphones purchased anywhere in the country within the guarantee period. And if you purchased a high end, relax, they have a separate counter for some of them too.

I wish they came up with a smarter way to service...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lock on...

This is India. Anything can be pilfered, anything can get lost and anything can have a freeloader. Solution? Put a lock on everything. (Related thought - wonder why the railways have a different standard for their bulbs than the household ones.)

I have seen on locks on telephones, taps, toilets, electricity meters - apart from the obvious doors and windows.

This one is inside a loo at Bangalores railway station...a soap dispenser of some kind.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Security and railways

On the current journey from Bangalore to Mumbai, I saw an unprecedented level of security at Bangalore city railway station. Metal detectors at entry with CRPF (?) guys with guns guarding it. They have a separate hand held scanner. Plus there were teams of police men swarming the place with metal detectors. A sniffer dog went through atleast the AC coaches and scanned the platform atleast once. Quite amazing for a place where till now I have not seen anything beyond sleepy policemen. Not sure if this is regular in these days of Karnataka being in the news for all the terror modules or if the police were there on a tip off or something. But overall, it was quite impressive.

But, the friend who got in from the Cantonment station said, there was no security at the station at all. That was really scary - even though most trains have RPF personnel on board and they ensure that doors are closed and shutters downed at night, there is scope for a fair amount of improvement.

The smell of something burning

This article rubs its hands in glee as it takes a look at the slowdown. It is worth a read for the simple reason that it confuses cause, effect and everything else in between.

Until recently, in India's outsourcing hub it used to be one big Googlefest, with all the pampering and cosseting that employees enjoy at the company's Googleplex headquarters in Silicon Valley. I don't know what the latest from Googleplex is. But in Bangalore, it sure looks like the party is slowing down.

This is patently stupid. One, Indian outsourcing companies have, in general, been quite tight around the waists - for a long time. Slowdown or no slowdown, spending is way lower than a foreign company of the same size or lesser. Google is a different story altogether.

The first sign is in real estate. In a city where residential communities like Silver Manor, Golden Enclave and Platinum City sprouted to house thousands of young, upwardly mobile technology workers, instead of 200 million-rupee homes, developers are now beginning to market 2 million-rupee condominiums.

Again, there is a market for lower cost homes, tech slowdown or no tech slowdown. As with everything, real estate chaps are trying to go lower down the market. This is a much bigger marketing trend in itself.

For tech employees, jobs no longer come with a lifetime guarantee.

When did they, ever? Anyway, read on. Watch this for there will many like these, like there have been for atleast 8 years now.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The pink marketing machine

Take a look at womens wardrobe of a few years back. Or girls. Ask your mothers or aunts - a generation ago. Was there any pink in their wardrobe? Sure colours that ruled the roost were all bright, shiny. Gold was an important component as were diamonds or other stones, but pink?

Today, the whole theory is that girls love pink and boys love blue. While the boys part is not so much about marketing - even today blue retains the largest colour share in mens shirting - but by no means are boys dressed only in blue. But pink and girls seems to be one big marketing effort. That was my hypothesis, so I trawled through Google. Heres what wikipedia says on Pink (do look at the citations here):

In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s. From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because it was the more masculine and decided color while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty color. Since the 1940s, the societal norm apparently inverted so that pink became appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century.

And I loved this in the same entry:

It has been suggested that females prefer pink because of an evolutionary preference for reddish things like ripe fruits and healthy faces.This suggestion, however, has been criticized as unsubstantiated.

So, financial papers are pink - do they attract the chicas?

The perfect sale (or thereabouts)

What should a shop do when organizing a sale? Every Ram, Raju and Rahul stores has a sale these days proclaiming 50% off prefixed with a small barely discernible upto written beside it. How are you different?

The sale would be honest. Have a sale in a different place than your store is a good option. That has the added benefit does not make people ask around the entire store and find exactly 5 tables worth of stuff on discount. The problem is that once everybody does this, the whole value of a sale is lost. Yes, sure, each year you will get a new set of ullus walking up, but the customers you really value, will stop turning up. With a honest sale, you build your brand equity of a honest sale.

Second, instead of upto 50% say, more than 25% off - and advertise with the minimum value of your sale. Now that is really honest. That encourages people to walk inside, discover that you are delivering more than what you promised and builds more equity.

Third, if you just want to clear your stuff. Do not advertise. When your customers walk in, they will be happy to see a sale in the store. That rewards real loyalty. (If you have a list of regulars, inform only them and watch the word spread.)

In my experience, I have found Megamart to be the best when it comes to discount shopping. Their buy one get one free are usually buy one get one free and not something else. They give flat discounts on most merchandize. The Strand book sale each year is another decent sale - and I am not necessarily talking about choice here.