Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010, a requiem

The year 2010 has been a momentous year has it not? Let us take a look back at the year and thank a few of those who made it memorable.

First up, Gopikrishna (Pioneer - the man who felled a King) and Manu Joseph (Open Magazine) for breaking the spectrum scam and Radia tapes - they are intimately connected to each other. Gopikrishna, incidentally should receive a thanks from the year 2008 onwards since the spectrum scam was reported by him that long ago. 2010 will be remembered thanks to these guys as the year that the media came to known like it was always suspected the proverbial emperors new clothes came off thanks to these two gentlemen.

While on the tapes, a great thanks to Twitter for doing what most Indian media could never do - pressurize media into reporting about themselves - and acting as a watchdog for the media in general. Twitter will continue to be happening for a while now - much to the chagrin of traditional media.

A mention of Radia tapes without a thanks to Radia herself would be blasphemy. Thank you Nira Radia for all the hard work you put in while lobbying for your clients. Clearly, you were doing your job better than our government. I wish you were granted special entry into our cabinet of ministers. That itself would make it about 100% more efficient. Your tapes have showed how the government actually works and it ain't pleasant. Thanks for bring it out in the open.

While on women, thanks to Saina Nehwal for keeping the Indian flag aloft in the badminton sphere. Alongwith the womens relay team that got us medals in both Asiad and CWG.

A mention of CWG cannot happen without the mention of the ubiquitous Suresh Kalmadi. A big thanks to Suresh Kalmadi for pushing up the market price of rented treadmills, sports equipment and what not - if CWG shares were listed, investors would have got a few crumbs from the estimated 1575% appreciation. Also, a big thanks for creating world records in spending money for construction. Who said there is no money in sports? Those who say that are probably out there playing.

And there's another record in a sport that is not recognized - not legally atleast. It is surely a local record though world records may be challenged too. The government that currently rules us has been dubbed the "most corrupt government yet to rule India". Thank you government for squandering the aam tax payers hard earned money.Given that there is another couple of years of glorious misrule left, this record might leave Sachin Tendulkar gasping.

Speaking of the great man himself, thanks to Sachin Tendulkar for being the Duracell battery of Indian sports - a double hundred in one dayers and fifty centuries in test cricket. The man does not have a mid life crisis for sure!

Another person who does not seem to have a mid life crisis or does - depending on who you ask is our future prime minister Rahul G. We have to thank him for all the poverty tours he made, for the questions he dodged, jumped, evaded - surely he would do well as a sports person, if not prime minister. For many questions however, his mouth was zipped.

And speaking of zips - wikileaks opened quite a few by releasing some secrets. Many of these were already "open secrets" but the one that intrigued us most was the one on Rahul G - who bared his mind to an American Diplomat over lunch where he almost got the nation listed as a terrorist state. He has, however, not bared his mind to the nation which he could rule. For that one thing, thank you Julius Assange.

Thank you Lalit Modi - not for anything else but for proving to the media that the surname is the root cause of all ills in India. Thanks to Nitish Kumar for winning an election on a good governance plank and keeping Bihar scam free while the nation is neck deep in scams of all kinds.

Thanks to Rajani Saar for Robot and Munni and Sheila for keeping us entertained through this rather busy year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Priceless

Cost for school to run a Secret Santa program: Zero
Cost of parents to search for Secret Santa program: A few headaches
Actual cost of gift: 25 bucks

As part of this event, the little fella comes home with a cheap Chinese made wooden butterfly that needs to be assembled. The instructions on the pack are the best I have ever seen "Get an general idea of the parts and assemble" it says in a Zen like statement. Using our knowledge of Entomology, which is about as vast as a pinhead on a needle, we manage to assemble it in a way that it resembles a dinosaurial ancestor of a butterfly.

Time taken to assemble said wooden butterfly: 20 minutes
Time taken for smile to become frown because said wooden butterfly a) does not stand on its own b) keeps falling apart: 0.00000000054 seconds
Time taken for parent to pacify little fella with a "brilliant" alternate solution: 2 seconds
Time taken for frown to settle down: 1 second
Time taken for frown to return - to implement said alternate solution: 0.0000023 seconds
Time taken for parent to really implement alternate solution: 1 week

Each time the little fellas eyes went onto the dissembled butterfly, his eyes would well up with tears as to how we were not able to assemble his gift. Finally, in a moment of brilliance, we figure out a way that the alternate solution can be implemented.

Cost of Feviquick glue: 10 bucks
Time taken for assembling said butterfly again: 20 minutes (after various permutations and combinations)
Time taken for glue to stick: Instant
Time taken for the glue on the fingers to be removed: Still to be established

Joy of seeing smile on the little fellas face on seeing the assembled butterfly: Priceless!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our FPM

Mr. Rahul G - you are our future Prime Minister - one way or other. Either you will rule directly or you will rule through a regent like Mr. Manmohan Singh. Somehow, spineless regents- like spineless reporters- are never in short supply are they? Especially after one Mr. PV Narasimha Rao (you really do not remember him do you?) grew too big for his boots. But talking about him and other regents would be missing the point altogether. But as future prime minister, your present timeline looks rather uninspiring.

Mr. Rahul G - you seem to have the record of using the same speech for the maximum number of times - atleast as this blog notes. Even actors (who are given their lines) have a new line each time - the least you could do is to have a few speeches which you use by rotation. That there are no two Indias is nobodys guess - all of the country is equally badly governed. In case you forget, your party has ruled it for the maximum part since we won independence way back in 1947. Perhaps taking blame for the creation of a substandard India might be a good beginning?

Mr. Rahul G, you have a penchant from walking away from uncomfortable questions dont you? Atleast on two ocassions and with relatively lightweight opponents (one was a student  and one was a rookie reporter - since no names were given) you have chosen to run away than stand by your comments.

Mr. Rahul G, you also spoke to the US ambassador about a rather existential threat to the world from the Hindu radicals (or militants or equivalent) did you not? Heres a priceless piece in a phoren publication on the same. Taken at face value, it means something very simple - we harbour terror groups. And that in turn means, that we really should declare ourselves a terrorist state - without waiting for Uncle Same confirmation eh? And why are we exchanging those dossiers with the western neighbour. Your own party general secretary attended a function where a book was released on how Indias worst terror attack was an RSS creation. Do you also believe that the Parliament attack was an insider job too? (And by the way someone quite famous who I wont link, but who is given to protecting tribals rights after usurping a bit of their land has written a reader on it too.)

You bared your mind to a diplomat of a foreign nation - can your bare your mind to us? Would you let us know what exactly you think - beyond what your mentor(s) teach you to parrot? It would really help us to know what our future prime minister thinks! Thanks!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thank You Nira Radia

Till yesterday (or whenever the Radia tapes came out) the general public really believed a few truths you helped get out in the open.

That the leader of the "most corrupt government ever" could be an honest man. Perhaps personally he is, but in not preventing the corrupt from becoming ministers or looting from under his leadership, he is ineffective as a leader. In the private sector, I am responsible for anything my reportees do - I am accountable for everything they do. So too is MMS and his Supreme Leader. Then the question arises as to why is corruption acceptable to the Supreme Leader. The simple answer usually is, because there is some benefit in that to them. Unless your tap(e)s came out, the media made us believe that poor Mr. MMS was trying his best. Now we know he was not.

That, our journos are truly neutral. There were those who believed otherwise but were given the title of "Right wing loonies". Unless your tap(e)s came out, they supposedly passionately argued on every side of the issue. Their columns and programmes were the result of immense research into the Indian psyche and everything they did was purely selfless - like those spiritually enlightened folks, you know. Now we know that they lobby rather fearlessly so that the cause of good is maintained and the truly evil are kept out of power. And even amongst the good, they fight and lobby so that the creme de la creme of the good comes to power. And in fighting for their causes, they write so as to sway public opinion. And of course, they are not neutral. Thank for an attempt to neuter them.

That there were corrupt business houses and non corrupt business houses. Perhaps there are, perhaps there arent. I admire Reliance as much as I admire Tatas, but in playing the game of business you have to wrestle with the pigs and get mud on yourself in that process. And almost all of it is due to our arbitrary licentious Raj.

Thanks to your tapes we know that there are magazines and newspapers like Open, Pioneer and Outlook we know that there are atleast some sections of the Indian media who are still fiercely independent.

And for those who came in late, the new installment of the Radia tapes are here via Saikat Datta

Thank you Nira Radia for all your hard work. Clearly you were working hard for those who had paid for your services - I wish our government worked as hard as you did. True, you were working for Reliance and Tata (both the business I admire for various reasons - but more on that later), but in reality you were working for the people. The same mango people who the Congress claimed to work for and the same mango people for whom Rahul baba claims to work as a soldier (or did he say solder?).

All the nights and days you spent lobbying (you were doing your job and doing it rather well) over telephone has helped us like Wikeleaks. Wikileaks did a great job of bringing "open secrets" in the open.

Your tap(e)s did it for India. So kudos to that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Complexity

There are always arguments on how or why a process cannot be made simple. Ask anybody who handles a complex process if it can be simplified and the answer (almost) always is an incredulous no. And if it is left to them, it will always be like that. But get a fresh pair of eyes, unconnected to the field, not bound by the "what should be" and you will come up with better answers.

Who would deny that photography was complex - it still remains for that 1% of photographers who are deep into that art. But that does not mean, it should be out of reach for the rest. And that's exactly what happened with the Digital camera boom.

At a wedding recently, I was amused that amidst the phalanx of photographers were two 5 year olds. The professionals had arrived with the flash bulbs (and repeaters) and camera and equipment. And it was all digital - I barely spotted one analog camera in there. But the kids were there, right upfront with their digital cameras (of their parents presumably) competing with the pros and some adults with mobile phones in getting a good shot. That's what digital has done to photography - made it accessible for 99% and more and thus increased the size of the market for all concerned.

Whats keeping your process complex? Why cant it be simplified? Why cant it be more accessible? Ask this question at your day jobs and you will get interesting answers.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Tweeples are here

Big media first missed the blog bus. Then it missed the internet bus - by and large. But then along came twitter. But more than twitter, what has enabled the adrenalin fuelled expansion of twitter and its role as a reflector of a social trends  is ironically, the 2G revolution that has been scammed by the Raja under the benevolent eyes of the Queen and her Regent. Blogs and the earlier internet "revolution" were really, no more than a half turn or smaller in India since both teledensity and broadband reach were not that great. But with people increasingly accessing the internet over their cellphones and blackberries - the early adopters and even many of the later adopters are highly clued in today. (And many of these are your normal customers of ELM by and large.)

And twitter is an easy medium to reach - just 140 characters and you don't need any degree in journalism or a licence (that's an idea) to put out your opinions. So, while celebrities and journalists and others made a beeline to twitter, guess who was with them? The common man - the aam insaan armed with her broadband or mobile internet - waiting for them.

So all Bachchan fans have to do is to follow the big man on twitter with the click of a button and you get to read what he says - unadulterated, without anybody putting words in his mouth or an editor using her scissors like a barber. What could be better for fans? Ditto for Tendulkar. And while Tendulkar is not exactly known for the his writing skills, he is still Tendlya - and his opinion is his opinion.

Before Twitter, there was no such medium. Sure you can watch Tendulkar play in a stadium or Bachchan peform in a show and they may wave to you while you seat in the audience, but hell, that's nothing like twitter - in case they reply to your queries. And that's the USP of twitter. You talk with real people and if your question or opinion was merit (and some timing), you might even get a response. Even in blogs or the old internet, there was no direct connect.

So, if your friendly neighbourhood big journo is on twitter, ask him or her questions - they may or may not respond to you, but when names are a trend on twitter - somebody who they have to answer will ask them the same question and force an answer out. And that's how it works. The same thing can happen in politics - Mr. Prime Minister will first see a wave on twitter. And regardless of how big media protects him and his Queen like Govardhana protected the denizens of Brindavan from Indra, they will have to answer them - clearly this not a dumb audience like those that sit in front of the idiot box.

The Tweeples are here - all 8 million of them and they are spreading like a virus on steroids. The most serious challenge to Mainstream media is here. Are you a part of it, yet?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conspiracy it is

The recent media scam named #Barkhagate on twitter and trending for nearly a week now is a conspiracy for sure. Allow me to explain.

Who in the world would benefit by the leak of the tapes? Think about it. The only person who can benefit out of this is Narendra Modi - the famous journalists and Tv channels sworn enemy. According to this blog, Narendra Modi had tested Radia in his Vibrant Gujarat summit and she had possibly played a role in getting the Nano plant set up at Gujarat.

Awesome aint it? Narendra Modi is the one glue thats holds all conspiracies together.

Now think of it. Perhaps, Mr. Modi wanted to get back at the ethical journalists consortium of India who were working with the ethical newspapers, television association of India for ethically exposing his unethical minister who was arrested by the ethical CBI for completely non political purposes? Therefore, he used the lobbyist (who is a Gujarati, no less - those evil people) to get her to trap these ethical journalists into reading out long emails which was already sent to them by her. And then, in one fell swoop, as these tapes leaked by themselves (like those pesky water pipes), the credibility of the entire Indian media has gone for a toss as has the credibility of the Congress party and many others. All names are in the list except Mr. Modi. Therefore, it has to be him or those Gujjus.

I tell you, all of this is a conspiracy. But then why would the CBI and the home ministry tap these phone calls. When the details surface, you will find that nobody had ordered her phones to be tapped -it was engineered by someone who was paid, by you know who.

But jokes apart, most media has tried its best to blackout this news. The same media which has no qualms airing doctored "sting" operations or airing bedroom romps shot surreptitiously cannot air these tapes as Breaking news or even on the 3 am news. Think of it. So much for probity, the triumph of truth and what not. I leave it for you, the intelligent reader to guess if our media is truly independent or interdependent.

Anyway the entire media links of this can be found here...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Railroaded

I have mentioned the insidious quota system that the Indian Railways seems to operate. Internet booking passengers have the first look at the toilet ends of the train. There is nothing wrong with that - perhaps, as I mentioned earlier, internet booking travellers are more likely to suffer from incontinence - considering they don't have the ability to stand in one of the longish lines of the Indian Railways for booking. That's a rant, I admit.

But think of it. Those who book their tickets on the internet are doing Indian railways a great service - by not crowding at their counters, by reducing the load on their infrastructure and by contributing extra revenue (25 to 50 odd rupees extra on every ticket booked). They are, by and large people who can pay. So, why not make them pay? Let them chose their seats and pay a premium for that as well - instead of this insidious quota system. (Earlier, when internet bookings were made the seats always used to be in the middle of the bogie - but of late, it has always been towards the ends - something that cannot happen randomly - not when there are 700 odd seats available. For the record, a regular bogie seats about 72 passengers. So, for sure there is some sort of a "quota".)

Why would an organization have an army worth of people to help people book tickets? When there are others who can do it - or self service as well. Why would an organization keep on accumulating people to do work like this, when by eliminating all the ticket booking clerks (or
outsourcing it) you can save tons of money.

But that would be missing the point would it not. Indian railways is not an organization that exists to transport people and goods from one part of the country to another. It exists to satisfy the whims and fancies of the constituencies of whichever railways minister rules. So, it will keep adding more employees, never make them work hard. With The passengers and the goods are incidental. Which is why it operates out of gross inefficiencies with little or no regard to what the passengers want.

With the number of people Indian Railways has, it can get all the railways of the world to outsource all its work to Indian Railways. But no, thats not a priority, atleast not until the current railway minister realizes her ambition of becoming Chief Minister.

If you measured the growth difference between China and India in terms of improvements in railways, it would pretty much reflect the way the countries have grown too. We are still stuck at the steam loco stage while China has entered the future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shoulder Ache

My eyes open. It is early morning and it is a Sunday. I stretch and wake up, not reluctantly - since I am a morning person. Suddenly, I sense a pain in my shoulder. And the analysis begins. Physically, did I do anything wrong? Lifted something? Slept in an awkward position? Nothing seems to come to mind. Psychologically, I wonder, did I do something wrong? Am I stressed? (One of the theories states that many physical ailments like sprains are manifestations of stress.) Again, I cannot think of a reason. I just dont get why I should have this shoulder ache.

As I sit there wondering what caused the shoulder ache, in comes the little one, "Appa, my shoulder is paining."

And then the mystery resolves itself. The previous night, the two of us were up playing some lusty shots on our new Wii with the result, the next morning, we are here, on the sofa, clutching our right shoulders.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Express Lane

Spotted a sign for the Express Lane ( a counter for customers with items less than 10 numbers) in a mall - that is frequented by PLUs - not really triple PhDs, but not those unwashed ignorant masses who crowd into reserved bogies on railways. But it was not operational, even at peak hour. And it might have crossed your mind that despite having a million malls, very few malls in India (I havent seen one across 4 cities) have an express counter.

You know why. It just wont work in India.

* First people will feign ignorance of the sign.
* Having feigned ignorance, they will say, since I walked up here, service me anyway.
* They will read the sign and disregard it anyway
* They will read the sign and argue with the biller
* They will read the sign and argue with the biller that they have just 22 items - which, really is a just around the corner from 10, is it not?
* They will shout and demand better service
* They will remind you whose father or son or mother or sister they are

And then it no longer makes sense to shop for small items at the mall if you have to be behind 32 people who have all shopped for 459 items while all you wanted is a packet of cheese.Yes, we are just that. Privately smart and publicty dumb - stupid or worse.

Can it be made to work. Yes. If there is a security guard who counts the items and directs the customers authoritatively to the other counters, it will. But otherwise, you can bet your ass that even triple PhDs wont follow the rules.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Here comes electric

The electric car is closer than we think it is!

GM - the much derided "Government" Motors in the US plans to bring an electric car to India. More power to them I say. And perhaps 2011/2012 could very well be an inflexion point in Indian and world automobile industry from this perspective. Today the companies are pulling out all the stops to sell their oil burners to Indians - because once the reliability of an electric engine is proved, oil burners will take a backseat very soon. This is a real cost conscious market. The more oil burners that can be sold in the next 1-2 years, the greater number of buyers that can be locked in for the next 2-5 years and that in turn can delay the potential inflexion point. Once there is a good market for electric cars, the overall cost of petrol could go down (and considering that oil prices are largely controlled by not so virtuous cartel) making it that much difficult for electric cars to make a dent - take my word for it.

But, fortunately, this time around, e-cars does seem like a big mass movement and technology advances are getting better by the day. The Nissan Leaf and GM Volt are closer to the market - they are there. And even in India, theres the Reva now powered by the Mahindras waiting in the wings to launch their next gen vehicle. There is the Nano with its super duper light platform waiting for its electric avatar - and one can be sure that the Tatas are working on it. And there are the likes of GM who could bring their own based on the experience from the Volt. Who will be first off the starting block here?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Escooters

I have spotted quite a few e-scooters on Bangalore roads over the past few months. I have also not seen them on dense traffic roads, but on bylanes where people seem to be using it for running errands. The customers, by the look of it, are people who would have ordinarily gone in for mopeds, but probably wanted something cheaper and cooler.

I am a little surprised, because I did think that electric scooters may not pick up steam all that soon because the impact it has on the pockets of people is quite less.I mean, a moped can run for almost 100 km with a liter of petrol - how much lower can it get? It looks like I am pleasantly wrong!

And while access to electricity in Bangalore is not too bad, it is not great either. So, the convenience aspect is questionable too. But perhaps for those whose movement is a few kms around the house with long periods of rest, perhaps it works.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Success Patterns

In one of my previous columns, we spoke about building a career like a Rahul Dravid or a Virender Sehwag. But, who identifies a potential Rahul Dravid from a Virender Sehwag. How does one figure out what one is? How does one ensure that a Dravid is not forced to become a Sehwag or vice versa?

There are two methods here. One is a coach method and one is a self analysis method.

Without a Ramakant Achrekar, it is tough to say whether a Tendulkar would have been spotted so early. And without those Ramakant Achrekars, it is tough to say how many Tendulkars we lost. Coaches, mentors are difficult people to get. Good coaches and mentors, are even more difficult to come by. Especially when your career is just starting off.

Here is a second option. The self analysis method. There is a Marcus Buckingham book available in the market, Now Discover your Strengths (and an upgraded version as well). Buy it and attempt the test that the book has - this will give you a small idea of your strengths. Keep it aside.

Now look back at your life and define what are the successful moments in your life as defined by you. So, if you helped organize a volunteer effort and felt happy about it - count it. If you were the president of the college cultural academy count it. If you ran a small business and worked on something that made you feel good, count it. Do not define success by money or fame or any one thing - unless you are entirely sure that is all there to success.

Define success by your own means - it in general could mean that you were willing to explore some aspect of your capability. The end result could very well mean that you fall flat while trying, but even this counts. It means you did not try hard enough or it means simply that you are not cut out to doing that kind of work.

Write down all your successes and failures. Write down what you did well there and what you did not. Write down what in that success and failure made you feel good. What would you change about them? What would you not?

For example, if you were the cultural secretary of your college - what was the achievement you are proud of? Proud of getting your team to work? Proud of getting your team to deliver? Or were you part of the team that a great job? Each of these three things tells you that you were a good leader, a person with good execution capability or that you were a good team player.

Do this for every single one of your achievements. You will find what I call as a success pattern. These are things “that you like to do”. In many cases this will also be “what you are good at”. It is important to look beyond the obvious here. Organizing a college festival may or may not mean you want to organize college fests or other fests for the rest of your life. It could shine light on your organizational capabilities. Or it could throw light on your ability to network. Or it could tell you that you are not a good team player. There will be environmental variables in this - especially in the way that you get returns on your successes - be sure to take them with a pinch of salt. Focus on your individual characters and traits and what you enjoyed doing.

When you are finally done, it will give you some sort of insight into what I call as “Success patterns”. And perhaps, even “Failure patterns”. When you do this a few years into your career, it will tell you exactly what you are good at and what you tend to succeed at. This does not mean you should not try new things - but sometimes, it helps avoid situations where you might find yourself being set up for failure. If you are a team player, there is no point trying to create a career for yourself as an individual contributor - or vice versa. If you are a technical person and love the technical challenges, your best bet is to leave the marketing to others. If your best bet is to be a cog in the wheel dont burn yourself trying to become an entrepreneur. And so on.

How to make your success patterns work? Sometimes, you can mould a challenge in a way that it is closer to you are good at. Lets say, you have an extremely challenging project to handle. But you love the technical bits and do not enjoy the finance bit. Then, perhaps you might want to handle the technical bit yourself while you leave the number crunching to someone else in your team or recruit somebody into your team with the requisite skill. If you are building a specialized skill, you can offer yourself as the go-to person for all things technical and assist somebody while they are working on a project.

Couple of caveats. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is a strong element of confirmation bias here. It does mean you do not try anything new - if that is the case, you are setting yourself up for failure right away. It also does mean just because you succeeded in a few things with a certain environment variable (say in one firm) you will repeat the success in another firm. For instance, corporate cultures may be different. And then again, hindsight is always 20-20. Also, this will help once you are a few years into your career - it will have limited impact for a fresher just out of college.

There are important lessons to be learnt from Failure patterns as well, but thats for another day.

(A slightly edited version of this made was printed in Advancedge Nov 2010)

How to tackle Malaria

There are a few options on how to tackle malaria - neutralize every single of the mosquitoes that can potentially carry the parasite so that they don't carry the parasite, but thats a stupid idea. Or neutralize the parasite itself. Or vaccinate (btw, Malaria does not have a vaccine) everybody who can possibly be affected by it. Perhaps the best solution is to go the swamps where the mosquitoes breed and clear them out.

Which one would you use to tackle malaria?

And if it is terrorism, how about cleaning the swamps?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Song in my head

From the movie Swades, a lovely song



Mann se raavan jo nikaaley raam uske maan mein hain...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Oily oily politics

The Son of the oil is an amazing personality. And his son is an honourable man too. A few years back, he gave us an example of how governments either run by him or supported by him can give us great governance. They took extreme care of the city and Bangalore was on the verge of being Singapore. Did I say Singapore - I meant Singapore of the 1940s or earlier - one could have shot a period movie effortlessly. He kept his promises with his partners - and promptly pulled the carpet from under them. And then the electorate, stupid as always, voted him out. Other than that one small stupidity, he has been in power always.

Every now and then, he has professed his love for rural Karnataka - all the while living in the big bad city whose residents he so dearly hates. He really does, see this.

And now, he comes out the woodwork hoping that the BJP government will collapse under the weight of money and the people will vote for him. Well, Bangalore will never vote for their party - anyway not much of it exists today. Even if the BJP does collapse (well, every political party is entitled to its survival instincts), the JDS wont benefit.

And then again, does anybody think that corruption originated with this government? Let us not kid ourselves to think that everybody other than the BJP are bathed in milk. Actually they could very well be, given their assets. And what was that saying about glass houses and stones?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A year for a flyover

An average flyover in India takes a year to make - give or take a few months. I am pretty sure that the time required to build a flyover can be crunched to a few months.

Now, I am no construction expert, but commonsense suggests that in any activity there are parallel activities and sequential activities. In the case of the flyovers, it appears that much of the work is being done in a sequential manner. Take for example, the pile drilling rig. The
flyover builders have exactly one per flyover. Commonsense suggests that having 2 or 4 of these machines will help them drill piles 2-4 times faster. Then post that the pillars are constructed; again, there is no reason the pillars have to be constructed one after the other - they can all be done simultaneously - or atleast 50% of them - so that time required for the concrete to harden/settle is better utilized. And then the actual bridge which rests on these pillars - can be constructed - since they consist of pre-cast elements that are mounted on the pillars. Easily all this can reduce construction time by half at the very least.

What I have written is purely from observation. No doubt flyover construction in India has progressed in the last decade or so - from the kerosene powered pile diggers to pile digging rigs, but the way the companies handle flyover construction shows a problem of a lack of
scale. The companies can bid for more flyovers if they have the scale, but they don't want to build scale and wait for projects. So, because of this chicken and egg situation they understaff their projects and it results in everybody bidding for about a year for each flyover. Infact nearly 10 years ago, Mumbai (with the traffic constraints) showed that flyovers can get done faster with the right incentives - and the Delhi and Bangalore metro (essentially a flyover with larger capacity) also shows that this type of construction can be done much faster.

So, why do our flyovers take ages to construct?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Outsourcing security

Rajesh jain nails it in his post on security.What started off as a comment there is a post here.

The Indian government cannot build enough power stations to power the entire country 24/7. Forget the country, they cannot even power the main cities 24/7. So, we all invest in generators that will provide us back up while the power plants undergo what is known as load shedding. I am sure in the developed world or wannabe superpower world, there is no load to be shedded. We are the powerless superpower.

In the same way, the government has outsourced security to offices, malls, hotels so that they take care of themselves. Because our government, intelligence networks typically never can avert a terror strike (even if they did, there are far too many human rights wallahs to make the officers lives miserable), they have  outsourced security to us. So, that if the terrorist enters via our porous borders, manages to put together a bom, the onus is on the malls and the hotels to prevent it.

We are underpoliced, our police are badly trained, handle outdated equipment (we saw it all during 26/11, did we not, the chilling footage at the CST) and the government is not very keen to pursuse modernization or police reforms. Thus it is that we need to secure ourselves, because the government cannot do it for us.

Take any example, you will find pretty much the same answer.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A case of exploding bonhomie

The guy who wrote A case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif recently exploded the myth that the peepul of our westerly neighbour are like us. And that too at a literary fest. No the chap is not being rude. He is right on the button.

So much for people to people contact. Even the writers on the side of the friendly neighbours are not friendly. Hows that? Till now we thought that all except those who cross the border on rubber dinghies are our friends, did we not?

Thanks Mohd Hanif for exploding this myth like your rather enjoyable novel, a case of exploding mangoes - I hope our jholawallahs, candle wasters, peace award hopeful leaders, newspaper owners with an eye on the neighbourly market and TV channel owners with an eye on rating and adverts learn it and internalize it.

Agriculture thought

This article in Forbes is a lovely article.

I am not sure about the yields though, since what I have heard is that organic farming traditionally reduces yield. Be that as it may - imagine if the cities created compost and sent it back to the farms instead of letting them rot in landfill sites? We don't need no fertilizer then, right? Considering the amount of consumption that our cities have? The more I think about it, the more it seems feasible. If you havent already started composting, please do. It is about doing your two cents to save the earth. And if you need compost, drop me a note - my next batch should be ready in a couple of months.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Where good ideas come from!

Lovely video!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The boondocks of Krishnarajapuram

I had written about the great railway station of Krishnarajapuram sometime back. And yesterday I got a chance to revisit this great railway station once again in all its glory. My hunch is that currently there is some secret project in Krishnarajapuram to reduce the operating cost of the railways. If this is true, then the railways have hit on a splendid model to have a low operating cost. If that is not the case, a certain Kalmuddy must have used KR Puram as a trial balloon.

The entire station is powered by "Human Intuition Guidance System". This system requires no electricity and incredibly people were able to find their allotted seats in the trains at 10 pm in the night like they were guided missiles (or literate owls) but without the jhingbang hi-tech lasers. With this system in place, there is no need for any announcement (and obviously, there were none) and people just had to ask passengers in the train as to which train it was. There is exactly one toilet in the station which is hard to find or locked or dirty - I did not explore all the options, but clearly the system ensures that people never have an urge to pee as well - Smart. The ticket counters were shut - as were announcements - again, there was no need since the system takes care of everything. Indeed the single shop open at the station seemed to be the only surviving relic of ancient railway history. The digital displays that display train numbers and coach positions in other old railways stations seemed to exist, but they were not working. Like I said, they do not need to work - since we have the "Advanced Verbal Communication System with Fellow Lost Passenger" in place. Everybody was right in position of their coach to the accuracy of a micron. In one instance, the lights came on about 30 seconds before the train arrived and shut down about 10 seconds after the train arrived with people switching to the "Advanced Visual Display Mode with Cellphone Display Light Enable Option".

Truly an amazing railway station right in the heart of Bangalore!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Super segmentation

Not satisfied with Junior Horlicks and normal Horlicks and a few other variants, there is now a super segmentation in the junior Horlicks segment with Horlicks 1, 2 and 3.

Not sure whose great idea this is, but Complan has followed suit too (or perhaps it is the other way round) with super segmentation variants in its range too.

Perhaps a way to capture the market in 2 kids households - by making them buy different (and hence more) packs?

Whatever the trick, not sure how many will fall for their tricks? Will it make a difference? One pack will get over faster, 2 packs will take twice the time, so will it really help? Is this just a me-too syndrome for both these drinks? Or will people end up getting more confused and buy Boost?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The market in bus tickets

Recently while we were on our way back from Udupi, we scouted for KSRTC bus tickets. The internet reservation showed an availability of 10 tickets, but there were none available to book. So, we decided to go there and find out if there are any agents selling tickets.

Sure enough, there were. They were selling KSRTC tickets at cost price. There seemed to be no KSRTC Counter at Udupi, so the agents are helping the corporation sell their tickets. But that doesnt explain the software glitch - I am pretty sure it is no glitch because it shows the right numbers for other routes.

What happens to these tickets if the agents do not manage to sell them? Does the corporation buy them back? But then they are also shown as booked tickets in the system, unless there is some other way to account for them? Cancellations mean only a 50% odd refund depending on when it is cancelled.

And as such there is no control at what price they sell them. So, theoretically they can sell them at a higher price - but they dont - atleast not that I know of. The more we thought about it, the less we got anwers...

So, how do these agents make money on these tickets? Apart from the commission perhaps (is there one)? And is there some sort of buy back arrangement? How does this market work?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Raj Thackeray and Geelani

Or why I like Raj Thackeray.

Imagine MNS wins the assembly elections in Maharashtra the next time around - with a landslide margin. That gives them absolute majority in the house. And on the day Raj Thackeray is sworn in as Chief Minister, he declares that Maharashtra will secede from the rest of India. Alright, constitutionally that is not possible, so he settles for silver. The Maharashtra government declares that you will need a permit to enter and work in Mumbai if you are not already domiciled in the state. (For the time being they let you work in other parts of the state, but Mumbai is a no-go.)

As a next step, they ask, politely at first, for a little more autonomy to Mumbai in particular and Maharashtra in general, failing which, they say, Mumbai will not pay its share of taxes to the Central Government. Considering that Mumbai does pay a lot of tax and buys a lot of tickets in the railways and generally pays all its bills standing in an orderly Q - that means a lot of trouble for India. Our fiscal deficit, horrendous as it is, will now become the equivalent of staring down the barrel of a very powerful gun. Maharashtra will become a rich state though, thanks to the financial muscle of Mumbai.

And they also pass a resolution that nobody from any other part of India can buy property in Mumbai. Let us also say, theoretically that he will drive out non Maharashtrians - if not by force, by frustration. (Actually he wont - he actually loves guys like me who can speak Marathi despite being born in another part of India). He would also want to wipe out every bit of non Marathi history of Mumbai - and that means that the Udupi restaurants, the Gujarati businesses, the Tamil markets, the Sindhi colony will all be given "secular" makeovers. And he wants to change the name of each and every town in Maharashtra. Or every street in Mumbai.

Let us take this a little further. Assume that he assembles an army of stonepelters and brings the city to a stop as per a pre-distributed schedule. Which is possible, once he arranges the funds to encourage his army of stonepelters who take aim and break every glass fa├žade in Mumbai. And specifically target non Maharashtrian assets? And blockade the JNPT port? And the Mumbai airport? And let industry suffer losses worth hundreds of crores. What would happen?

Would the government sit silently and wait for it to happen? Would it send in the army to Mumbai - to protect its other citizens who are not in favour of seceding from India? And what if the army kills a few stonepelters? All of this is hypothetical. For all the negative publicity he gets, one thing Raj Thackeray is, he is a patriot and supports the idea of the Indian nation.

But would our media which is currently screaming and supporting the stonepelters in the valley through broadcasts and on twitter and various social communities, rise in support of Raj Thackeray?

The answer is that they would not. Obviously, that is where the twitterati and glitterati live and make money, for one. For another, we all believe every Indian has equal right over Mumbai. If it is true for Mumbai it is true for any other part of India. If Mumbai cannot secede and Raj Thackeray does not have support, why can Kashmir secede and Mr. Geelani and his band of stonepelters have any support? If article 370 is the bone of contention, this is the time for the Indian state to grow a spine and give it some rigidity as well. Both Mumbai and the valley are as much a part of India as Mizoram and Krishnagiri. And if that is so, I would like to know how right it is for the media to support and air the demands of a few paid stonepelters and their leaders who are holding a state and its citizens to ransom?

Remember this - if Kashmir can get Azadi, Mumbai definitely can. And if you encourage one, remember that you encourage the other as well.

Which is why I like Raj Thackeray. And which is why I think that every state of India should have a Raj Thackeray or more. People like him are the perfect antidote for people like one Mr. Geelani who encourages the creation of a nation of stone pelters while silent chief ministers and passive central governments allow him to.

Failed salesman

India has failed to sell the idea of India to Kashmiris (In the valley, to be specific. Jammu, Leh/Ladakh seem to have no such issue).

What is the idea of India? As per our constitution, India stands for a plural democratic country where seven fundamental rights are guaranteed. The Right to Equality, Freedom, Freedom from Exploitation, Freedom of Religion, Cultural and Educational rights, Constitutional Remedies and the recently added Right to Education. As rights go, they are the fundamental freedoms that are essential for both individual and community. These are the rights that are enforceable in a court of law. That's what our constitution says.

At a practical level, what has India meant to us? India, the country is an ancient country that has shaped itself on a pluralistic platform. It is a country which has seen the birth of more than a few important religions and movements. It has welcomed numerous religions, races and peoples into its folds. In the land of a million gods, a few more were more than welcome and this tradition has continued in the general tolerance and adopting belief systems in its populace The country has seen off numerous invasions and murderous invaders apart from diseases and natural and man made calamities throughout its history.India has been a melting pot of cultures, each entity providing a distinct nuance to what India is today.

What else does it mean? Media is free in India (if they chose to be), women have equal rights as men (in general), there are a multitude of schools and colleges available, property rights are relatively well enforced and yes, while we are not perfect as a country we are a relatively free nation. We have progressed ever since the economy was opened in 1991 by the venerable Narasimha Rao. And from then on, with the strength of our GDP, we have created a decent name for us in Information Technology and Services. India is also home to a good number of private companies that have created a name and space for themselves in the world space. It is a country where there is no thought police or religious police and in general, your god can go with you. You can worship anything, almost anywhere. So, that's India for you in a nutshell, a quilt woven across the centuries, religions, cultures, languages and people.

Yet, think about it, did we give Kashmiris a fighting chance to join this idea of India? To be honest, we did not. We failed to sell the idea that Kashmir would survive and thrive in its own identity as much as a Rajasthan or a Kerala does. Article 370 ensured that Kashmir would be trapped in a limbo - never independent, yet not completely sold onto the idea of India. We failed in selling the idea of India to Kashmiris despite sending in crores worth of development every year. Despite building railways at tremendous cost and risk. And then again our salesmen were not the best. They were corrupt or inept or both. The whole idea was to integrate it into the Indian Union at some point of time - that can happen even now, but given that we have constantly selected invertebrates as our leaders, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. And so with Article 370, we left the doors open for persuasion of another kind - a persuasion that will literally create a desert in paradise.

Sure, as a country we are not perfect. Is it worth fighting for? Clearly yes, because given all the imperfections, the opposite of this is quite unimaginable. And this is exactly what will become of Kashmir under the leaders they so religiously follow because of the strings that their masters have religiously (pun intended) attached to these leaders. I can imagine fighting for freedom, but fighting for the opposite of it and claiming it is a fight for freedom?

A case for roads in Bangalore

When you visit Mumbai, yes, Mumbai after a few years in Bangalore, something strikes you about the width of the roads there. The roads in Mumbai seem like you are abroad. And then those old Fiat cabs remind you where you are.

Bangalores roads are narrow. These roads served their purpose well when there were few cars and fewer buses. But today that is not the case. Bangalore registers nearly a thousand new vehicles each day. And considering that this is the case for the past few years (as has been the case for most of India), that is a lot of vehicles. The result is very clear. During peak hours, the Outer Ring Road - a road that was so empty when it was built about 10 years ago that people used it for drag races - is now chock-a-block with vehicles. The road is pockmarked with intersections and during peak hours you will spend a good 15 minutes at each intersection. The road leading to Majestic (or Kempegowda Bus Station) is another example. Getting there on time to get your outstation bus or train has always been a nightmare. Pick any road in Bangalore and you will get the same reaction.

Under the earlier (Congress, JD et al) governments blessings, there was little or no road upgradation work - ostensibly because that would cost them rural votes. Cost them it did - both rural and urban votes. And a BJP government came into power about 2 years ago. And since then road upgradation work has happened in full swing. Quite a few underpasses, flyovers have been built and roads are being widended. Under the newly elected corporation, this work has been going on at a pace that would do Bangalore proud. And the public transport system today is unrecognizable from what it was about 10 years back.

But of course there are issues. People are not happy parting with their property for widening roads. Which is understandable. Road widening means trees on the sides (and Banglores narrow roads were beautiful) and that means they need to go too. The greens are upset. But then Bangalores greens need to look closely at where the trees are. See Bangalore from the air and trees are either in large public spaces or in the cantonment or on the roads. Few Bangalore houses have trees - real estate is far too pricey to support trees today. Trees have to be saved, but it is not just from the Metro or widening roads.

But the real problem is not about widening roads. Given that vehicle numbers are increasing, narrow roads will result in more pollution. Pollutions levels will go up as vehicles stall for longer periods of time waiting for signals to turn green or for intersections to clear up. And living in a property along a narrow congested polluted road is a health hazard in itself. It will also result in those very trees falling in even very light rains. And this is a common problem in Bangalore. And then there is parking. Many houses have no parking facilities for cars - so they park on the roads. Ditto for business establishments. And that results in one lane of most roads being lost for actual usage leaving just one odd lane for traffic. Traffic enforcement in Bangalore is poor. It is getting better now, but it is a long away from the enforcement (or harassment - depending on who you ask) levels in Mumbai or Delhi.

Bangalores problem has to be solved at many levels. Roads need to be widened - public transport needs to be beefed up - car usage needs to be discouraged with high parking fees or road taxes. Both these are equally important. Given the weather of the city, walking paths need to be created alongwith cycling paths and these are ideal given the size of the city. Overall environment awareness needs to go up. Traffic enforcement needs to be sharper. People need to follow traffic, parking rules diligently. The gentle Bangalorean is capable of doing all this - just opposing road widening will not get the city anywhere. And the Metro rail is the future of the city that should have been here 20 years ago. The Metro is one of the cleanest solutions that will result in reducing pollution via transport for Bangalore.

Without wide roads, the problems will continue. With increased levels of both public transport and private vehicles these very roads will be choked beyond imagination. Even for efficient public transport, one dedicated lane is required - which is all that most roads are today for all forms of traffic. Every city has to transform and it is now Bangalores turn.

Where are the videos?

A few weeks ago, a so called aid convoy from Turkey set sail to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. The flotilla did not break the blockade and ended up with a few causalities. As usual, the world media lapped up the story that those who were killed were peaceful protesters. And then the IDF released videos which called their bluff. These were videos shot from the helicopter which was monitoring the Mavi Marmara. The footage showed activists attacking soldiers with weapons. These videos may or may not make Israel's position in the world any more or any less credible, which is a different story in itself, but remember they are fighting a war with proof, not bromide.

This is not new to IDF. In the last "war" with Hamas, IDF videos clearly showed rocket launchers positioned amongst civilians and in schools; it showed how civilians were being used as cover as well. These videos were presumably shot from planes. Indeed, IDF has a youtube channel where it puts up its videos for the world to see and decide for themselves whether they are merciless killers or they try and do an as clean job as possible given the state they are in.

Sure, videos can be doctored and photos can be doctored (as we saw in the Mavi Marmara case), but not any more or less than statements from so called sources can be genuine. War, as we all know by now, is just not a war fought with weapons. It is also a war about propaganda.

How is this of interest to us? Every summer there is an uprising in Kashmir. This is a clear pattern emerging in the past few years. I don't know why it is summer rather than winter, but there must be something. Perhaps it is the weather. This summer is seeing cycles of street violence yet again. But the question that begs answering is that, despite a clear pattern emerging there, why are our troops not prepared? Not with guns, not with soldiers, weapons, but with hi-resolution cameras? Why are the streets of towns most liable to violence not dotted with cameras? (Again, same holds good for places susceptible to terror recces and attacks.)

News reports originating from Kashmir would have us believe that it is the CRPF that is out killing people - civilians as they claim. The home secretary on the other hand, has said that anybody who breaks a curfew and indulges in violence is not a civilian by length of imagination. On the web there are file pictures of troops being harassed by the crowds, pelted stones on, bloodied in battle, being hit by many people while having just a lathi in their hands. Why are these pictures not in newspapers? Why are these videos not on breaking news on our ever fulminating channels? Why is there no big picture like site in India where we put up pictures? Why are these videos not on youtube? Why are the troops unable to counter this propaganda attack?

One standard argument has been that our troops are meant to fight real wars, but please, they have been in Kashmir for a few years now. And they have been called out in our cities many a time to counter mob violence. So, by now, they should have been experts in fighting mobs in cities and organizing guerilla attacks.

Heres how the CRPF could counter it - without guns. Given that breaking a curfew is illegal, can they not videoshoot it using hi-res cameras from their vans? And send it neatly packaged to the Chief Ministers office (apart from media houses)? How difficult is this today given the prevalence of easily available technology? Even a ten year old can upload videos on youtube today - why cant our troops? This will ensure 3 things. One, it will call the bluff of helpful "sources" who would like us to believe that the troops go berserk when all they are possibly doing is doing a thankless job and saving their lives while they are at it. It would also, take away the anonymity of these stone pelters - who go out pelt stones, collect their money and go back to pretending that they are peaceful normal guys like you and me who can type as well on a laptop as well as throw stones. When hi-res pictures are available, those who indulge in violence will have hell to pay, unlike the anonymity that they revel in today. Third, it will force the government to take action on these so called peaceful protesters.

And don't think this is a recipe for Kashmir only. It is not. Each place that the army or the police are called to battle mob violence, they will need cameras more than guns. And the sooner our troops learn to fight the propaganda war, the better it is for us. And enabling vehicles with camers and software is far less complicated and daunting than manufacturing the LCA or buying a howitzer or submarine or a vintage aircraft carrier.

The videos will kill two birds with one stone - it will keep the forces themselves in check while taking away the anonymity cloak the mobsters take shelter under.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Bangalore Volvo lesson

When I came to Bangalore about a decade back, public transport in this city was a mess and continued to be so until about a year or so back.

It is partly an attitude issue - people here don't use much of public transport - and prefer the convenience of their bikes and cars - and partly an issue of poor service as well. So, it was a vicious circle. Bad public transport, low usage and hence there was no reason to increase or improve the public transport services. Roads were in a sad state too but that's a different story. About 4 years back or so, BMTC introduced Volvos as an experiment on some routes. And for a while, they weren't making money. Buses ran empty - those who got into them were happy to have an entire bus to themselves, but for the corporation, I am sure, it was not a pretty sight.

And in the last couple of years, BMTC has taken a some more initiatives to ensure that Volvos are appreciated and accepted. This, in a city, that loves its bikes and cars is no mean feat.

First, they flooded the roads with Volvos so one did not have to wait forever for a bus to come by their way. Second, they targetted the high density routes - the routes that service the IT sector areas in Bangalore. These are the people who don't mind paying for good quality transport. And these are also the people who don't mind using public transport - most IT companies have their own transport routes too. They came up initiatives like Bus-day working with IT companies to publicise the usage of buses. They introduced new routes - there are routes that originate from large apartment complexes. There are private public partnerships where organizations work with the BMTC to introduce new routes and many of them are successful too.

There are a few lessons from this. First, you remove waiting time and hence improve predictability of reaching work and back. Second, you promise a comfortable ride each way. Third, it is way better than a bike and sunburns and traffic. Fourth, there are no arguments with rickshaw drivers to endure. And then again, it is a green way to work too. Once these issues are tackled there are no excuses left for not using public transport.

Most transport corporations fail because they don't give enough bus services for people to use them. If somebody has to wait 20 minutes for a bus to come their way, that is a long time in a commute time of possibly of an hour. And this is where it is a great story for Bangalore. On some peak routes, there is a bus every few minutes - timings even a metro railway service would be proud of.

And all their efforts have been rewarded with those great buses turning in a profit!

Bangalores volvos are turning in a profit, ridership is increasing and this gives rise to a positive vicious circle. More ridership means more money which in turns means better bus services. But the trick is to get to the tipping point and ride over it.

All this augurs very well for the upcoming Metro service. Now can somebody increase parking  fees and road taxes for private vehicles, create bike lanes and walking paths too?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tomato Sauce 1 Rupee

Which marketing wizard would come up with this brilliant idea?

For a pizza that costs you about 250 bucks - you cannot throw in a ketchup sachet free. Please pay me a rupee for that. How pathetic can you get Dominoes? I rarely eat pizza - I believe it is a health hazard - but this is the pits. Maybe you should charge the tissue, the loo and, and for washing the plate too, eh?

Monday, August 30, 2010

The two trick pony

I woke up a little late to this, but a great post by Churumuri 

And speaking of which I am reminded of this



Friday, August 27, 2010

EVM Fraud video

An eye-opening ideo from Atanu Deys Blog (Do read this post). Take a look.

Friday, August 20, 2010

E-commerce in India

Nice post at VC Circle on a meet discussing the e-commerce situation in India and whethere it is at an inflection point. It is reflective of how my e-com experiences have been in India.

A few years ago, a friend of mine ordered one of those fancy massage gadgets from one of those online portals whose design goes from bad to worse with each redesign. We had to collect the parcel from the nearby post office. Collect it, we did and we surprised. Except when opened the
packet, it was broken into a couple of pieces and there was some clause about them not being responsible for damage enroute. Chastened by that experience first I was glad it wasn't me and then I vowed never to buy anything online.

Then a few years later, I had some points which I could redeem and I ordered a book that took half a million emails and phone calls and then some more effort akin to fighting a lion barehanded. It arrived within my lifespan and I was glad that I did arrive. Online buying seemed to be like those the photographers who promised to take pictures of you at tourist spots and send it by post - and rarely did.

In India the rule of thumb was that anything that you paid money upfront carried a risk of non delivery. Even shares.

Much water has flown under the bridge since then. And online is still far from becoming a way of life, but there are a good set of trusted service providers.

In my mind, ICICI and IRCTC were the prime reasons for building trust in online services. To this, a third element - credit card and ATM cards - have played a role in making online successful.

The first tickets I booked on IRCTC were delivered in a customized envelope within two working days and it surprised the hell out of me - I never visited a railway station for booking since then.

ICICI bank seemed to have a neat online interface (not the best, but any online interface beats going to the bank) and ICICI direct worked very well too. My dad reconciled each ATM transaction with his bank statement and satisfying himself that the banks did not debit him something he had not withdrawn.

Today most tickets can be booked online, including movie tickets. Flipkart is very good with books (havent tried their mobile phones though). Banking is almost entirely online and I hate it when I need to go to the bank - the live customer service experience is inevitably worse than the online one. This is true in general for most other interactions I guess.

But I am of the generation that took the e-commerce easily. But I am not entirely sure about m-commerce yet! Thats a generation gap? Perhaps

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Patriotic Songs

Many years back, while in school, Independence Day was celebrated with a patriotic songs competition. Each class put out its best singers boys and girls to sing the patriotic songs in chorus and the peons on the drums and other sundry musical instruments.

Each class prized its singers and cheered them with all their heart. Most of the songs were Hindi film songs bar a few. And it was always Dulhan Chali that won the first prize.

The singers had an added incentive - they got to cut classes and practice and as audience we got to hear many classes practicing for the 10 days before the event. We would cajole our teachers to give us 10 minutes free in every lecture so that the team could practice. I was always a cheerleader all but once I did get a chance to be a chance of that famed chorus of singers - my moments of fame as a voice in the chorus of about 15 children.

Its about 20 years since the last time I attended the school function. But seeing the state of the nation today, these songs seem hollow. I mean, the songs are good, but they are pointless.

Hum honge kaamyaab - perhaps, but 60 years later, we are still not kaamyaab against many basic problems. And we seem to battle corruption as a monster that only grows in scale each year. And with pork barrel schemes, the taxpayers money is almost just flushed down a black abyss of corruption.

Dulhan Chali? 60 odd years later, the bride is anything but a bride. She seems haggard and old and too tired to take on the world. I could go on and on, but the optimism in these songs belies what we continue to see year on year.

Perhaps I am growing old, but to me, atleast on this Independence Day, the songs seem hollow...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Build Your Career

In the olden days, you got into a company, joined at some nondescript junior level and from then on, you path in the company was set out in stone. You joined as an officer, became senior officer and then after some years you moved in as an assistant manager and then so on and so forth until you got bored of the company or vice versa or you retired or your company folded up. That was the traditional way of building a career. Start in accounts, die in accounts. Start in marketing, die in marketing.

Not any longer. The new way of building a career is entrepreneurial. It is all about you owning your career, deciding what you want to do and picking up the opportunities that appear along the way. This may appear to be different from the way you thought it out to be. Even when companies offer a career to you in their shining advertisements or powerful powerpoints, they really offer you a job. A career is never handed over, you are typically handed down a job - the rest as they say, is upto you. Once you get the job, you figure out the way to handle it as a career. Those who succeed make it, the others move on.

So, how does one build a career. It is as simple as taking on the opportunities that show up - very similar to what an entrepreneur does. Sunil Mittal of Airtel was into hawking generators once upon a time. He spotted an opportunity in telecommunications and then there was no looking back. The founders of Infosys were working at Patni computers and figured that they could start their own company in the IT outsourcing space. These are the big examples we know. But many a successful career can be built with such an entrepreneurial outlook within the firm itself. For instance, a new business unit could need exploration and there may not be anybody with that exact skillset to run it. Who will raise their hand to be counted?

In many a firm that you will be part of there will be opportunities - seen and unseen, stated and unstated, risky and risk free. There will usually be takers for all the seen, stated and risk free. There will be very few takers for what is either unstated or unseen. Sometimes you
create those unseen and unstated opportunities yourself and take it up. This is even more tricky. Here, you would have to create a business proposals and swim upstream, against the current and then having jumped through all these hoops, do the hard work of proving everybody else wrong once again.

At other times, there could be champions for these roles at every firm - the mavens who drive the culture of an organization. They will be the people who see numerous opportunities go untapped, numerous chances being missed and apart from them, nobody will see it. Sooner or later, they will assign this "cloud" of a job description to somebody. Many a time, it will not succeed, but there will be many a times when it will succeed. And if you can make rain out of the cloud, you are the rainmaker...

Sometimes these opportunities may start off as feasibility studies or skunk projects or a proof of concept that requires quick execution skills. And from there, sometimes, it morhps into a real possibility - now given that this happens - it can grow bigger than your "current" day job. And at that point, many of us chicken out. So, a finance person undertaking a marketing project suddenly finds it to be bigger than what he can chew - and then there are two options.

You can either make this new description your current job description or give off the new work to someone else. I have seen entire units being created this way and the newbie who started off on this being installed in a good position or in a influential position of this new venture.

Companies appreciate people who stand up to be counted - at moments of crisis or at times when they want to try out something that they know has a risk of failure. There are many broken pieces in companies which beg to be turned around. And usually nobody wants to touch them. And that's another way to build your career. Try it out, give it your best shot - if they turn around great, if they don't after putting in an agreed quantum of work, they did not deserve to be there anyway. At any rate, you have saved precious time and money to your firm and that is usually appreciated.

Look at your career from an entrepreneurial perspective. Dont limit yourself by your education or your experience. Or, like Tarzan, use those two as the first roots to swing from and then keep swinging away in your career. The whole idea is to not get blinkered in ones quest for a career. Many a finance person remained stuck in finance (substitute finance with a vision of your choice) when he could have done very well in a field of his own interest. If you enjoy what you do, give that a chance in your career.

Look at your career as your business. See it as a mix of opportunities that come your way and the ones you pick up. And once you pick something up, don't look back on what you left, but focus instead on what you have on your hands...I can promise you a far exciting journey this way.

(An edited version of this was published in Advancedge in Aug 10)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Descent into Radical Islamism

(My first Op Ed published in The Pioneer)

Kashmir and Kerala. One, paradise on earth, and the other, in its much-touted words, god’s own country. One defining the northern frontier of the Indian state, the other its southern end. Both identified strongly with their culture.

Kashmir stands defined by its Kashmiriyat and Kerala by virtue of its unique language and culture regardless of religion. Both, in their own respects, are among the oldest outposts of Islam. Sufism in Kashmir was as syncretic as Islam could get. And in Kerala, Hindus on pilgrimage to this day pay homage to Vavar at Erumeli before they embark for Sabarimala. Islam in both these States was anything but similar to its original West Asian version. That is as far as history goes.

Nobody would have ever thought that a similar tale could potentially weave together these two distant States. Until the fateful day when a handful of Malayali-speaking persons were apprehended trying to cross the border into Pakistan to wage jihad against the Indian republic.

Kashmir’s descent into fundamentalist oblivion is well known. Somewhere in the 90s, Pakistan-sponsored ideologues wrecked the idea of Kashmiriyat after driving the Kashmiri Pandits out of the Valley. Slowly but surely, Kashmir Valley was converted into an outpost of their degraded idea of Islam. Shrines began to be wrecked, houses of those driven out occupied and, slowly but surely, Kashmiriyat was replaced by ‘Islamiyat’.

The Amarnath pilgrimage - an important pilgrimage for the Hindu community — was stopped for a few years in the 1990s and started again in 1996 after the militants assured the Government that the yatris would not be targeted. Today stone-pelters and separatist ideologues rule the roost. One would barely recognise the Kashmir romanticised in many movies. (Much of this is due to the inaction of both the State and the Union Governments as much as due to external influence and interference.)

Today the idea of studying the trajectory of one and trying to predict that of the other might seem absurd, but it is worth taking a look at what Kerala might become 50 years down the line.

The history of the two States is anything but the same. Kerala was ruled by Communists (who got into bed with monotheistic religions). It had a highly educated population. It sent workers to Dubai and other West Asian countries and came to be known as the famed Gulf economy. As we saw a few weeks ago, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Many of those who returned came back with more than just money. They came back with a renewed zeal for imposing the version of Islam they learned back in the Gulf on their fellow citizens. And the cycle of events that has followed cannot be recounted in a single feature. A few weeks ago, a professor had his hand chopped off by a couple of fanatics for a question in an exam paper that allegedly insulted the Prophet. This is a small example of the radicalisation that has taken place. From here to destroying the idea of Kerala that one has today may seem far-fetched, but in 50 years, it is entirely possible that it may not exist.

The transition will not be sudden: It will have its cycles of violence, driving out of non-believers and the creation of Hindu and Christian enclaves much like the State of Jammu & Kashmir with its nearly three distinct regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. And then a day will dawn when the Sabarimala pilgrimage will have to be conducted under heavy security cover thanks to the looming threat of militants.

Between Kerala today and the coming true of this grim prediction stand the State and Union Governments and the steps that they take to prevent the latter from taking place. Otherwise, at the current rate of degradation, the day our fears become reality is not far away.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Railways, going going gone

Indian Railways operates an insidious quota system over the internet. Over the past one year odd, I have observed that internet bookings are now relegated to the worst coaches and seats. Heres my bet. When you book your tickets, the chances that you will be banished to either end of the coach is extraordinarily high. Even if the train has about 300 odd vacant seats, you, the internet booker - who takes the load off the various counters launched across the country will be penalised and presented with a seat that is very near the toilet. Perhaps they think that those who have less bladder control book over the net - it takes lots of bladder control to stand in a railway queue and book your tickets. And for this, you have to pay a service charge as well - for not burdening the system.

The rate at which railways is offering jobs to the next of kin of those who get killed in the Indian railways journey of probability, they will need all these pseudo subsidies to stay afloat. They will indeed become the largesse employer in the world (slightly different from largest).

I just do not get this. First of all why have a quota system? Earlier, the internet bookers got the choice of seats - the center seats in coaches. Either of them is wrong. Why not offer them the choice of seats? Heck, even airlines and bus online reservations let you do it.

Why not railways? And charge us 25 bucks or 50 or 100 bucks for the privilege? In any case, they are charging us, why not offer a service and charge?

In any case, railways are the last resort of travel for most of those who can afford any other means. And the way it is being run into the ground, it wont last for too long. Antiquated rolling stock, signalling systems, speeds that even old steam locos would not be proud of - well, any romance left in railway journeys is now gone. Thanks, Minster!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Take the bus

A new public transport campaign launched in Bangalore, exhorts Bangaloreans to take the bus. See this link for picture (The Hindu). Effectively, it says, 1 bus is equal to 40 cars.

Overall this is a nice campaign and it will perhaps even get some converts from cars to buses. But, unless you have some streak of eco-friendliness in you, it wont register.

So, for those of you who have that eco-friendliness in you, do try the bus once in a while - perhaps on weekends, or while visiting crowded areas or if you have a service near your workplace. And hopefully the government will build those cycling tracks as it says in that article - (see link above) - because without cycle tracks, it is a little tough to take the cycle out on Bangalore roads. And, hopefully, pedestrian walkways as well so that one can enjoy Bangalores glorious weather!

And then we all got swindled

Once upon a time in Bangalore, the real estate market went bonkers. This blog had noted that when the market goes bonkers, the product is sidelined and the freebies are put in focus. Thus it was that Orange properties, was offering among other things, a car free with every apartment/plot booked. Somehow, much water flowed under the real estate bridge and I forgot about it. I even thought that they had all got their Mercs and BMWs delivered and lived happily ever after in all those apartments they had advertised.

But in a conversation today, I realised that Orange properties was, well, a lemon. And thanks to my limited exposure to TV - I had missed this story completely. And, it looks it was a well oiled scam machine to which many people fell prey too and are now running pillar to post for their money.  Complaints board is filled with its complaines. See here.

Nobody is yet in jail or into chakki peesing...not yet, atleast. All the best guys. Scams in India rarely have happy endings for the victims - the proponents continue to lead a good life by and large. Here is the story of South Indian Cooperative banks.

Micromax, Apple, Nokia

Micromax is to Nokia at the lower end what Apple is to Nokia at the higher end. Alright, thats a bit of a stretch, but this company is fast emerging as a threat to Nokias dominance of Indias telecom market. Forbes has a nice profile of them.

The key, apparently is their dual sim phones - which lets one have two active connections at the same time. And Nokia does not have a single phone in their stable which lets people have two connections at the same time. One could wonder why the hell would anybody need two connections at the same time - but I guess a country which barely had phones now has a demand of a few connections per person - whatever!

As they rightly say, competing with Nokia or the others on price would not get them anywhere - and this is a classic strategy lesson - they had to create a new category. And they have. Whoever thought that anybody could give Nokia a run for their money with phones cheaper than theirs, with more features.

And, btw, I picked up my first Micromax out of sheer curiosity for about the same cost as a dinner  actually slightly lower - at a mid scale restaurant - will blog more about it in the coming days.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Of Wishes, Horses and Beggars

A nice piece on the changing geopolitics in the Afghan region in Foreign Policy magazine - must read. (via Rajeev Srinivasan)

The author makes a beautiful case of the changing geopolitics in the region and how that could end up tying Pkstn into knots, not because of anybody else, but because of its own overreach. Dont know if things will pan out as the author postulates - I sure hope it does. Should be a fun movie to watch while it happens - but as it happens, there will be desperate attempts to take everybody down alongwith it. For now it is wishful thinking as we prepare for the Af-packing up and its imminent side effects in India.

And yes, as I have often postulated the moment China enters the picture - all gloves and bets are off. The European and American world have been handling Pkstn with kid gloves - China wont. Remarkably brazen and brutally direct, China wont care about who they are holding by those round things that often swing in a cricket match. Throw in a huge army, military might and the balls to use it - China is a country that nobody can trifle with.

And India being India, we will be a beggar on the sidelines getting hurt every now and then while the players slug it out.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Road widening and the environmentalists

Curious article in the DNA yesterday. The current government in Karnataka is trying its best to ease traffic woes in Bangalore. Alongwith the Metro construction going on in full swing, there is increased on better public transport and some means to alleviate traffic jams in Bangalore. Needless to say, this means road widening is imperative. The roads of Bangalore are choked or narrow or both and there is no way that the present roads can handle the ever increasing traffic.

So, it is not road widening that is the problem as the article makes it out to be. The problem is the ever increasing number of vehicles. So, road widening does not cause ill health as choked roads do. Given that there is no real way to reduce the number of vehicles, what is more polluting? A choked road with gridlocked vehicles and idling engines or traffic moving at a decent pace? Surely, you know it.

Yes, road widening will result in trees being cut. So, if these environmentalists could work on positive activism rather than opposing existing projects that might be of some help. See Bangalore from the air, as I often argue. There are no trees near houses - all the trees are in parks, roadsides, old campuses or in the cantonment. Why? To maintain a tree in the plot given the cost of real estate is impossible. So, it is not only road widening that results in the loss of green cover. Every house, apartment being built results in the same thing. And take any house, including the environmentalists - the result will be the same. No trees. And no rainwater harvesting too - this has been made compulsory in a recent law. Bangalore, seriously, needs a dose of environmentalism, but not this kind. We need positive activism rather than negative.

Environmentalists would do well to work with the government in improving public transport, increasing taxes on vehicles, increasing parking fees and coming up with other sustainable solutions instead of protesting and stopping existing development like our old son of the oil.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Kerala, once there was

So, @nikhilnarayanan posted a link that makes for interesting reading. Guess which state is at the microscope of the NIA? With a lions share of  6 out of 14 cases investigated? The title was a giveaway, but clearly Kerala aint gonne be gods own country anymore soon. If it is not already, it will soon cease to be.

The once green state now takes on a slightly different hue. The state was once touted as a model for other states, indeed other countries to emulate. The 100% educated Keralites - who barely found jobs in their state farmed off to the Middle East - returned money to their state and developed it (mostly by building palatial houses and little else and I will stop at that). The state still lags in development - be it roads, electricity or even jobs. The good communists ensured that the state remained in the developmental backwaters - though the backwaters by themselves attracted tourists. And so the state prospered, one way or other.

But then truly TANSTAAFL, and hence some of those who sent money back to their hometowns also came back with a religious zeal and sought to inculcate some of it in their fellow "statesmen" resulting in the sorry state of this state.

A few months ago, some Keralites were killed in Kashmir, trying to cross the border (Financial newspapers give amazing twists to ironical news). Frederick Forsyth correctly identified Kerala in one of his novels - The Afghan. So, the writing was always on the wall. Did anybody read it? Or is anybody taking a close look at it?

Money is the only ideology

Pick any movement, any ideology, anybody shilling for anything - it comes at a price. Yes, yes, go on - take any movement - the top leaders of any movement are only into making money. Below the paid leadership, there are the useful idiots.

And so it happens in Kashmir. The intercepted telephonic chat (quick Terror Right wallahs, clearly such invasion of privacy by intercepting telephone messages is a disrespect to the respected leaders of the movement) between two paid lackeys is some very useful reading for all those who can think of spontaneous stone pelting.

Now, can we figure out who is making the payment enough to create an entire stone pelting industry? Entry level stone pelting jobs seem to be available for about 500 bucks. (see report). Perform well and then who knows you can get a career path upwards. (Heres a transcript at Kanchan Guptas blog). Very soon we will see the story of someone who progressed from a stone pelter to the owner of a stone mansion.

Follow the money trail - soon enough you will see where the bucks are coming from - they wont be coming from very far.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Branded saloons

My last post was about branded clinics, this one is about branded saloons. With some difference. Back in the 80s, we had two options - the dhoop chaaon barber to the barber in a shop. If you were very well off like the Premier Padmini owner, you treated yourself to a haircut in a shop that an airconditioner  - regardless of whether they turned it on or an occassional haircut at the Taj.

Today, the local barber exists, but atleast in Bangalore there are a million other "branded saloons". They are jazzy inside and outside and airconditioned, but the usefulness ends there. My experience with a few of them have been abysmal to say the least. Some of them have uniformed barbers or some new Chinese equipment, but very few of them can do anything different from your local barber. And all of them uniformaly charge a bomb - thats a dud on your head!

There are so many these days that it makes me wonder how they survive. To run a saloon on reasonably prime property means that you need a decent clientele - number and quality. And the last time I checked property rates were quite high. So the possibility is that the owners offer lower rentals to show occupancy or promote such "brands" partly from their own pocket to "showcase" the property as occupied and then hand it over to the next lucrative occupant. Either of these could explain their high turnover - many of these branded saloons do not survive more than a few seasons - and the local barber (who by now has upgraded with an aircon and some gadgets himself) has the last laugh....

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Branded care

When I was young, we went to the local doctor whenever we fell ill. Usually there were 2-3 doctors in each locality - with strong supporters and equally strong detractors for each of them. We were loyalists to them, steadfastly refusing to change in the face of conflicting opinion from well wishers and the like. But, on occasion we would sneak from one to the other for a "second opinion". 


If your situation got complicated, there was the neighbourhood pathologist or a clinic nearby run by one "famous" doctor where other doctors came on appointment. And worse than that, there were hospitals. 

In this niche have stepped in the hospitals, corporates and then some. In Bangalore for instance, Manipal, Apollo, Narayana Hrudalaya and Fortis, say are the biggies in terms of hospitals. They are not the only ones with reputation in this space, but these are the ones who have stepped into this health care business. 

So, there are many Apollo clinics or Manipal Cure and care in places that act as feeders for hospitals - potentially though not necessarily. These clinics also do not depend on doctor reputations unlike the clinics of old and are instead more process focused (or so I presume) and a majority of doctors are younger (solely my experience). Also, they are great when it comes to the regular diagnostics, but when it comes to something complicated, a visit to the hospital may be mandated. 

In clinics like these, also rides the reputation of the hospitals themselves - more than the doctors. In a way this is the corporatisation of the medical business - a move away from the individual reputation driven clinics. And the multitude of clinics means better reach for the common patient as well. What the local doctors to do to survive them will be interesting - will they join them or stay as a solo force?