Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Main Kahan hun....

After 4 years of blogging here, I decided I need a gift for the new year – apna domain name.
Will be blogging from this new more personal space from now on.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Owner is God!!

Every day, for 8 hours I am surrounded with hundreds of trucks. The truck wallahs have a penchant for writing quotes on their vehicle. The most popular one is the famous,
“buri nazar wale, tera mooh kaala”. Then there are some good intentioned people who say, “Buri nazar wale, tera bhi bhala”.
The most common one I have found on side of trucks is “God is One” while many of them advise against AIDS with a “AIDS se bachen”
Today I saw a rather confusing one. It said, “Owner is God”.
Well don’t know if the truck owner is calling himself God or he has simply translated the hindi saying – “Bhagvaan Maalik hai”.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Work'ers or 'No-Work'ers

I have been observing this for the past couple of months now. Today an incident marked the tipping point for me writing this.
The incident that happened was a boy at office happened to vent out his frustration to me. This boy who has been contracted to do some particular work at office is asked everyday to do a variety of jobs – the real responsibility of which lies with the ‘staff’ of the company. (Graduates and Post graduates join at the Officer level. The staff level is the one below them). What led to this boy’s vent of frustration was that not only was he told to do jobs which were not his, but also he was scolded, threatened to do them.

After having seen the attitude of majority of workers or staff people, it is no wonder that pressure (and responsibility) is put on a person who is not an employee of the company and who has no “associations/unions" to support or back him up. The rest of the junta is happy munching peanuts in the warm winter sun – a typical picture which comes to mind when you think of a government owned or run organisation. A mere 4 months in the organization and I have been witness to people openly saying that they don’t know the work. You can’t force things as the threats to go to the union can be issued at the drop of the hat. There is no propensity to learn because without that too the monthly cheque is coming to the bank account and joining a “Government company” has already allayed all their ambitions.
Bland refusal to follow orders does affect the ego of the officers, who then vent it out all on the contracted guy who cannot reply back in fear of getting his contract cancelled.

There were talks that the organization is trying to move away from hiring people at the staff level instead outsourcing those works.
The benefits are many.
First, there will be no union, hence no complacency. A negative point can be that who does the contractor go to in case of any injustice. Well, I guess the answer to that is that if he is good, the organization would not like to let go of him and his concerns will be addressed.
Secondly, the thing they call – job security won’t be there. The staff level knows that even if they don’t do any work, they cannot be fired. This problem takes a colossal shape in case of state owned enterprises.
Third - the cost. By outsourcing, we are changing the fixed cost to a variable cost component making the organization leaner and flexible.
Fourth – safety. Recently we have seen a major disaster due to negligence. If a contracted labor, whose work is that of a sweeper, is asked to operate those huge, deadly things called oil tanks or may be the complex machinery like oil pumps, a disaster is waiting to happen!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sachin !!!!

The other day someone asked me, “You call yourself a big Sachin fan, so tell me the exact number of runs he has scored till now”
“12000 something and 16000 something”
“Haa ! Sachin fan!”, came the sarcastic reply.
“OK. how many centuries and half centuries”
“well 40 something and 90 something”
“What the hell! How do you call yourself a Sachin fan dude”.

That got me thinking, introspecting.

I don’t remember how many 100’s and 50’s He has scored
But I know, it is way more than anyone else.
I don’t remember the runs he has scored
But I know that no one will be able to reach those numbers in my life time.
I don’t remember what shot he played to which bowler, on what ground against which opposition.
I simply know that the shot must have given me immense pleasure, thrill and excitement.

And I think that is all what Sachin is all about. For me, it’s not about the numbers it never was. He hardly raised his bat when he reached the 17000 mark recently but you could see the joy on his face, in his body language after he punched the ball through the off side for a boundary. And that is why me and probably numerous others watch Him.
When he comes dancing down the pitch, it is as if the seconds move slowly. As soon as you see that aggressive stance, then the legs moving, the heart beat literally stops. There is that deadly mix of fear and excitement - something that Michael Douglas would have felt in Basic Instinct. It never feels the same when other numerous other batsmen do the same.
There are plenty of shots like the cover drives, straight drives, sweeps and paddle sweeps, gentle nudges and the on drives – which are replayed time and again. But there are those some special ones which are at top of the mind – fixed permanently there. One being the upper cut off Shoaib Akhtar in World Cup 2003. There had been some boundaries hit before that, but may be that shot “opened the floodgates”. I remember, watching it at Lolly’s place where we friends had gathered to watch the match. Oh, we jumped off our seats – again the fear followed by ecstasy – all in a matter of seconds.
Then there was the ferocious pull off Andy Caddick against England. It went soaring past the boundary – not of the ground but of the stadium. I was sitting in at Bulls Eye, doing some DI problems for CAT, which was some 9 months away(Damn!! ). That shot “opened the floodgates” of sms’s, prompting me to calculate the percentage increase in sms before and after the shot. Of course, I literally ran back home after the class.
The next one is a six of Fleming at Sharjah. It was not a sweetly timed straight batted shot over the bowler’s head but was intended to hit hard. It went soaring over the long on.
All the three were seen on TV. There was one special one seen live. I was sitting just to the left of deep mid wicket at PCA, Mohali. It was a full pitched delivery and I saw the ball move in 2 directions. First, it moved perpendicular to my line of sight and then a few seconds later, moved back in exactly the opposite direction as if it had hit a wall – Action and reaction. I don’t know why, it was beautiful to watch.
There was a beauty even when He got out on 99. It was the beauty of sadness. I have never seen Fifty Thousand people at one place absolutely silent. It was amazing – the spell that He cast. It seemed like the shrieks of the Pakistan team was swallowed in that silence. Half the stadium had their hands on their heads, the other half on their faces, just showing the sad eyes.
This silence was also the sound of shattering of one of my dreams to watch Him raise his bat Live – in front of my own eyes and applaud Him. It is tough for such an occasion to appear where He raises His bat if He has not scored a century so technically numbers are involved here. But the dream is just to see his bat raised – possibly in His last match. I wonder what will that be like – the last match. May be all the flood lights will get automatically turned off and a light will appear from the skies directed in the center of the ground which will follow Him as he walks to the pavilion, one last time. Meanwhile the dream still remains.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Visiting 2 banks – a public sector and a private sector one can be a bipolar experience. Some key differences which I observed in a matter of minutes were:

1. Written Application:
In a public sector setup, a grumpy looking person asks you to go to a corner and write an application for xyz purpose. If you ask for a blank sheet of paper, you will get a hard look before it is presented to you. God help you if you ask for a pen. After all being a banker to every Indian can be a tough ask!
Quite contrastingly, on my visit to the recently ‘rebranded’ private sector bank, the application was written by the representative and all I had to do was read and sign it.

2. Computer Savvy:
The generation who are lifers at the Public Sector banks are yet to get comfortable with computers. Of course, it’s been tough on them but, well, you can’t help but see the difference at the private banks where instead of finding some form through a sheaf of forms, all they do is to type in the IP of the server having soft copies of all docs and get a print out. It was quite funny watching a middle aged employee getting up from her computer terminal and sulking like a child, calling out loudly to someone because she got a error message.

3. Customer Satisfaction:
Is customer the king or the employees? Well, if there is a line of customers on your counter, and a fellow employee comes behind in the counter and asks for some work should you do it on priority? That was the thought with which I left this Public Sector bank.

Many things which happened in the public sector bank must be happening in private sector too. But may be the inherent attitude which makes the DNA of any organization is definitely different!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bhagat Singh and Mumbai

On a 'Geri' of Punjab University, I saw the building where I gave my NM entrance test. Its called Bhagat Singh Hall.
It led to a train of thought where I found that Mumbai part of the life had some more relations to Bhagat Singh.
Not only the hall in which I gave the test which led me to Mumbai was named after my favorite hero but also my address during the first year was Bhagat Singh road in Vile Parle.
To add to the coincidence, my last day in Mumbai was on 23rd March - the day on which Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were martyred in 1931!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Island Day

A cool, pleasant breeze – indicating that typical North Indian winters are just around the corner and a mildly warm sun – one that just warms up your skin so that it feels amazing when the cool breeze soothes it. A chilled Budweiser and the surroundings green and empty. Four of them sat there, 5 years after having sat there every day for four years. They had just spent half an hour taking a round of each and every nook and corner of the college – the only difference that instead of 4 guys being on 1 black scooter, they were on a black SUV. They sat there for an eternity – talking, remembering. There were cycles of a recalled memory, followed by a homogenous mixture of 4 different types of laughs.
It is important to do silly, stupid things – especially in college life – so that you have memories of it later. Be it a gheri with 5 people on a scooter meant for 2 or 8 people in a car meant for 4, going to a 5 star hotel and ordering the cheapest item on the menu – a fruit ruffle, and sharing it with 2 other fellows or starving on the lake with no money in any of the pockets. Just lying down, staring at the sky, thinking about gastronomy and making some stupid comments about astronomy.
If the afternoon was good, better was to follow. He had once dreamt after watching DCH, that he and his friends with their WAGs are sitting like them in the last scene – a round table and just chilling. He didn’t know that he would see the dream turning into a reality. But before that it was time to go to the 5 star hotel – the new one. Ironically it was owned by a guy with a name which was similar to what they had done to their most loved college lives 5 years ago. 3 of them were there with their W’s. He was the lone exception – not that it mattered much. And this time they didn’t order the cheapest snacks and shared it with everybody. The best part, apart from the company was the ambiance – the best one he had seen till now in the town. And it was here that a degree of completeness was added. Everyone took turns to talk to the one who had woken up when we were getting ready to have dinner. The meaning of long distance calls has completey changed. It used to be a call from 200 kms away and people used to talk loudly on phone. Now its saat samundar paar and we just turn on the loudspeaker. It was time then for the newly added family members (read the Ws) to get introduced to us – they did well!
The party moved on from the latest in town to one of the oldest in town – 5 stars don’t have the flavor of the butter chicken and naan which simple mortals like them aspired for. Here, he saw the round table with chairs around it and he saw the dream unfolding in front of him. Despite suggestions of moving to a comfortable location, he insisted on this table and from then on it was a kind of trance - maybe it was the butter chicken.
Here followed the stories – some short and sweet and some elaborated, complete with dates and venues and yet some where all of them contributed because all were associated it in some way – stories of how singles became doubles. In time, as existences of some living beings were eradicated, the crowd slowly became silent. There was not even a clichéd “Itna sanatta kyu hai bhai” – all deep in thoughts or getting nostalgic or may be everyone was sleepy.
The day was an island. Soon it was time to leave it and sail in the unknown again. After enjoying the comfort of an island, how can the sea look exciting to anyone?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home Shopping

They said that Internet penetration was not enough in India and people are afraid to pay online, so shopping from the net is not a viable option.
So now we have the concept of shopping channels pioneered by Network 18, Star etc. They are 24 hour channels which will have live feed and people can buy from their TV – No problem of penetration as all houses especially in tier 2, 3 cities(the primary target market as these cities don’t have the big brands which people aspire for) have TV’s and housewives don’t have to learn to operate it. Considering the size of modern retail being estimated at $200 bn by 2012, home shopping has tremendous potential.
But it will have to overcome some of the basic Indian buying behavior problems or in other words “educate the customer”

1. Establishing Trust
The problem with internet shopping has been establishing trust. No doubt with brand names like Star and Network 18, they have the brand image to push things.

2. Quality of ads on the channel
When you say home shopping or teleshopping, what comes to mind are those silly ads which has foreigners with 6 pack bodies, a ridiculous hindi voiceover (which has been a topic to mimic in Laughter Challenge), selling some health equipment. Who buys those products seeing those ads?

3. Buying Mentality
Even if we have to buy simple things like utensils, we have a habit of going to 3 – 4 shops, checking them out by touching and feeling, bargaining and then buying it. Nothing of that sort is possible while buying from a TV. And may be is the greatest challenge in e-commerce.

4. Early adopters
No doubt, just like any new technology, this channel needs to have its early adopters – who would adopt the channel and promote it by talking about it. Are these early adopters going to come in the form of tier-2, tier-3 housewives or youngsters from metro cities?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Right to Education

Swaminathan Aiyer writes about the imperfections in the right to education bill – it giving only a right to schooling, not education with a major problem of teacher absenteeism still not solved. A possible solution that has been long recommended – not only in case of education but as a replacement for Public Distribution System – is the introduction of vouchers. With that, any ‘aam aadmi’ can go to any large or small, public or private school for his education, using the coupon to pay the gargantuan fees that schools today charge.
The system of coupon may work in case of PDS where we are dealing with a commodity - a person has to just go to a shop and buy the product. But when it comes to education, the same system can develop flaws. We are talking about a child from a relatively poor background getting admission in a neighborhood, big, private school, all his fees being paid by the government through vouchers.
But what about the associated costs in a school education. Every day in schools, there are demands of funds on pretext of one ‘development’ or the other. Today, it is an art project for which you need to buy some expensive paints, tomorrow it may be some cricket match for which you have to keep in proper gear. There are numerous associated costs of studying in a private school today. Now, will the government vouchers pay for that too? Or will that burden come squarely on the poor soul who was too happy to send his ward to a ‘private’ school.
And what happens to the morale and self confidence of the child, who is bullied by his peers when he is not able to match up to them?

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The buzz word for more than a week has been "Austerity". Right from Twitter to TV, this has been the topic of discussion.
There is an interesting editorial in the Economic Times, which refers to the austerity of Mahatama Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu quipping that it "costs the nation a lot to keep Gandhiji in poverty".
The ground reality has most probably been the same in our times too. If a Sonia Gandhi travels economy class or Rahul gandhi by train, half the other seats are taken by their security setup, so there is a high chance that ultimately it is costing the nation more for this austerity drive.

But I have come to believe that COngress is turning into smart marketeers. In General elections, their national positioning was clear - Youth!
Now when state elections in some important states are coming up, they have started another round of marketing campaign and they have been successful in creating that space in the mind of the "aam aadmi" by the blitzkreig of the austerity drive.

The role of the media is also important here. They are news hungry and just have to be fed 'correctly' and they will give you a free of cost campaign (Ideally it is free). May be a lesson for all the corporates out there!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Govt Offices

Well.. a nice start to the day - having dealing with 2 govt offices within a few hours.
First it was BSNL where I was determined to make some progress regarding my landline and broadband connection which I had applied more than 2 weeks back. After meeting with the SDO, I came to know that they didn't have some cable.
And it had to brought from somewhere. And that the officer in charge of that purchase was on leave, returning only next week. Process Stalled.

Next in line was Post Office. I had to send some documents through speed post (DTDC people said they were experiencing some problems in logistics)
So first I went to the neighbourhood post office which was the best small post office I have ever seen. Neat and clean, new furniture - it had a modern look to it. When I said, that I wanted the mail to reach as soon as possible, the lady suggested to go to the office at the railway station where the dispatch happens more frequently. At the station post office, first got into a tiff with the security guard - they are the hardest to please - anywhere. After he did not let me park the scooter near the gate, I went a couple of meters ahead and parked it. On way to the office, the guard gave me sheepish smile and started explaining that there were (unwritten) rules and all. I followed a strategy which I have faced many times - mostly in government offices. I gave a slight glance at him for a fraction of a second, so that he knew that I knew that he was speaking to me and then completely ignored his presence as if nothing existed. I have seen this thing work - not being acknowledged completely frustrates a person.
It hits at the ego - makes him feel totally irrelevant and unimportant. I could see the effect when I came back from the office. He was shouting at someone - may be to not park his vehicle there.
Anyways, after this little encounter, I went in the post office. And asked the pointers to the speed post counter from an employee. His volume was so low, I could hear the buzz of the fly near his face but not what he was saying. After asking exactly 5 times, I got the message that there was another section for speed post behind the building. I went there. It was kind of a warehouse where all incoming and outgoing mails, parcels etc were kept. After getting some directions, I landed up in a office where the concerned person sitting behind the desk asked me to go the front office. I countered with, "unhone hi yahan bheja hai" - they have only sent me here.
He retorted with "Its their job. Not ours. Go to manager saab".
So next task was to find the manager saab.
I was shocked to see him. To an MBA, the word manager is a coveted word. It has some nice images and expectations attached to this word. But this particular manager looked more like a cleaner.. ok. clerk!
He was busy playing with his mobile.
After looking at the envelope from all sides, he called a person and asked him to get the job done. This guy then takes me to the guy who sent me to the manager. Now he knew that he HAS to do the job. So he gives a couple of abuses to the front office guy for not doing his duty and accepts the envelope. And ya, he doesn't respond to my query about when can I expect this mail to be delivered.

I come back home and decide to break the writing block on my blog with today's experience.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Next Destination: Heaven on Earth

Had talked about the cocoon in the last post before leaving Chandigarh. After that 2 small cocoons have again been formed and the last one is about to break again… Initially it was 2 weeks of effortless life at Gurgaon amongst the easy environs of the training center. Free food, free and excellent accommodation, Gym and Swimming facilities – overall preparation for a smooth transition. Met some old friends and had a good time making new ones.
Then again after 2 weeks half of the batch was uprooted and sent to the eastern part of India – the land of the left – Kolkata. Again the facilities were provided and it took no time settling in a routine here. Some more friendships were formed and it was quite a fun time in the past 4 weeks – the highlight was first learning and then endless sessions of Poker. And well the official learning part too. (just a relevant example - came to know that just opening the windows when a LPG leak happens in the house doesn’t really help because all the Gas settles down on the floor as it is heavier than air. Sealing the cylinder with the cap should be the first step).
Having roamed about almost all of India, I was comparing the no. of states and UTs visited with a friend. Both of us had the figure of 22 out of 35 (28 states + 7 UTs). I remarked about not having visited J&K especially because it is in north – in close proximity to where I live. Somehow it was missed. And as luck would have it, a couple of hours later I was informed of my next posting – Jammu.
This time it won’t be the same. No free food and AC accommodation with housekeepers on call. It’s something like going to Infy, Mysore after training at Hyderabad (though there were 9 of us then as against only me here). So time to prepare – mentally and physically for some more change.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Possibilties of Stagflation

The budget has brought in mixed reactions from different quarters. The task for the FinMin was to balance the problem of economic reforms (read fiscal deficit) and the social reforms. While there is no doubt (as already argued here) that focus on social expenditure is necessary for the growth of the country in long term but seeing away from the problem of fiscal deficit has in built problems of possible Stagflation in the country.
The logic is simple. Increasing fiscal deficit (Govt Expenditure minus Govt Earnings which is around 6% of the GDP) means the government has to borrow more(around 400,000 crores) to meet its expenditures. Now when the government is borrowing a huge amount, the banks don’t have much more money to give out to other companies. As the demand for money increases to more than the supply of money, it results in increase in the cost of borrowing money i.e. interest rates. This results in 2 possible effects.
a. Less borrowing by the industries, which results in less expansion plans, hence less growth
b. As cost of borrowing increases, the cost of production increases and the company passes on these costs to the consumers resulting in increase in prices or inflation
Already we are facing a drought like situation in India due to lack of monsoons, resulting in increase in commodity prices. Though the inflation measured by the WPI index is less but the consumer price Index (CPI) which is a more relevant figure from the point of view of ‘aam aadmi’ still hovers around 10%.
Hence we can see a possible halt in growth and increase in inflation – in other words Staglflation.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Within the last 5 years, I have broken the cocoon of a set life around 4 times and I am all set to do it for the 5th time today. Hence, on an average every year I bit goodbye to the comfort of a normal, set life and start again. If you think of it, it seems tough but when you live it, it becomes a habit. Given that you have a place to stay, the first thing you need to find is a place to eat nearby, the mode of transport, the nearest market for daily stuff, then slowly the house begins to take shape and soon you are not living out of the suitcase anymore. If you think about it, it look like a uphill task, but while living it, it becomes natural and before you even know, you are back in the cocoon of comfort and then - soon it is time to break it again. Let’s see how the breaking and the formation process unfolds in the next few months.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Structured Search – that seems the buzzword and the way to go forward for the search companies. Wolfram Alpha was the first one to come up with such a structured result of a query. But the results are from a massive database it has. Google has taken up a more challenging task of structuring the whole web through Google Squared, which is still developing in its Labs. Microsoft’s Bing brings in a good competition to the search area of Google. But not to be left behind in its own game, Google, with squared (and the amazing Google wave) clearly has a vision of where it is headed.

As for structured search, it seems the natural way forward. Google has indexed the whole World Wide Web and pulls up what you need at the click of a button for the user. The way forward, quite logically is to present the information or data in a format that is much more user friendly, which saves time and reads the mind of the user effectively.

The advent of Web 2.0 and the user-generated data on the web results in an overload of information. Any innovation which provides a structure, sense and a certain authenticity to this maze of data is bound to be accepted and widely popular.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


Summer time. It is afternoon and hot outside. Inside the house, it is calm and quiet. Half-lying on the bed you are reading a book. The book in high probability is something you are not very much interested in. May be some exam is lurking round the corner so you have to read it but it is not tomorrow so not reading will also not make much of a difference. Propped up on the pillow you see the ceiling fan – an old one, itself tired from the tough job in the hot weather but still, lazily carrying on. It is making a creaky noise while going around, as if to sound its displeasure. But nevertheless it is responsible for the difference from the harsh and sunny outer world you can see through the gap between the drawn curtains. It seems like a gentle breeze caressing you. The fast fading black characters on the book cover up the light as the creaking sound from the fan acts as the ideal lullaby for a perfect afternoon nap.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Brand India

Now this was something which I feared.

Slumdog may have won all the Oscars of the world, but it has led to people having a certain wrong perception of India. Now when someone who is not very familiar with this part of the world, hears the word India, the direct association with the movie takes him to an image of the slums which were spectacularly shot in the movie. Brand India certainly takes a hit.

Jim Rogers in a recent interview said “Wherever I go for speeches around the world I tell people, if you have to go to one country in your lifetime, you should go to India.”
But may be his audience are restricted to the ‘Economic Times reading type’.

Movies are a powerful medium which have both the reach as well as the influence to change or form perceptions. May be some of the filmmakers should take lead in making movies which have global appeal and which something better to people to associate India with. It will be quite a creative challenge to weave this aspect in an interesting script.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Social Reforms and Economic Development

Mr. Swaminanthan Aiyar, talks about not to expect radical economic reforms from the government. Rather than that, it will be more focused on Social reforms like infrastructure, health, education, rural development etc. This has been the theme for the past 5 years and is on the agenda for the next 5 years too.
But there is no harm in following this route to economics success. Mr. Amartya Sen, in Argumentative Indian, points out the strong linkage between social opportunity and economic development. The most common notion is that economic development occurs when global trade happens in the country. This has been the case in India too specially with the IT sector. But as Mr. Sen points out, to be on par with the global competition we need to have quality products, which in turn requires more skilled and educated people. We need to be high in our efficiencies – for which we need less absenteeism and good health of people. Ultimately it boils down to how socially developed the country is.
The government is also right in focusing on rural development. In this environment of receding global demands, our local demand, especially from the rural sector has led to us maintaining a very good growth rate compared to the world. Everyone has realized the importance of that market at the bottom of the pyramid. And to sustain and develop that market, we need to shift the spotlight on them.
The mantra seems to exploit this linkage between the social and economic aspects. It may not give the magical and drastic reforms that the country is expecting but may lay a firm ground for the long term benefits of the country.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Decontrolling Fuel Prices

There is a lot of euphoria over the stable government for next 5 years in India. Already scores of policies – disinvestment in PSU’s, Pension reform etc are being talked about and expected in the near future. All these will have a major impact on the country. But one reform which will have a direct and visible impact on the people (or aam aadmi as congress likes to call) will be the decontrolling of the fuel prices. [link]

Simply put, the price for which we get petrol and diesel from the petrol will be much more variable as they will move according to the global market prices. The artificial controlled prices of fuel in the recent past have been both a headache and leverage for the government. Leverage because a reduction in fuel prices can bring about a change in sentiments of the nation in its favor and headache because of multiple reasons - various quarters pressing it for reduction in prices, deep losses for government owned Oil companies, anti-government sentiment when prices are increased. In fact often long meetings are held before an increase or drop in prices is announced.

Once prices become market controlled, a lot of this headache gets off the government’s head. Of course, there are a lot of quarters which need subsidy in fuel – agricultural sector, poor (for kerosene oil and cooking gas). But effective means are being employed for them to get the subsidy by the way of smart cards and coupons. These are much more efficient than a subsidy based pricing for the whole of the nation. The variable prices will lead to reduction in tremendous amount of consumer surplus which all of us enjoyed.

The benefit of this will also be seen in other spheres. With highly subsidized prices we could get the fuel cheaper especially when the global prices were touching $150. Now there will be an incentive for both the fuel intensive industries as well as the government to focus on greener and renewable sources of energy. The risk of variability in fuel costs (which form a major component of the costs) will force to invest in alternative sources with lesser dependency on oil and hence lesser risk.

There will also be some encouragement for companies to enter in oil and petroleum sector making it more competitive. Essar and Reliance were wiped off when they established their own petrol pumps but could not match the government controlled prices. Now there will be more incentive for private biggies to enter and may be give some challenge to the well established PSU’s who dominate the oil market in India.
The move is a good one but Mr. Prime Minister needs to look out for the initial unrest and confusion that this move can cause.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Elections 2009

For the second time my vote mattered in bringing a government (and a stable one this time) to the center. Glad that Dr. Manmohan Singh could make it with a decisive verdict.

2 major reasons for voting for congress:

- Trust in the abilities of Prime Minister. This time there is a potential of people like Shashi Tharoor, Montek Singh Ahulwalia, Jairam Ramesh coming to the decision making table. I hope people of such high caliber can really make a difference.
- Rahul Gandhi and the youth factor. The simple fact that he has been focusing on making Congress a party for the future by actively working in this regard and bringing a lot of youth into the fold. I prefer his forward looking, long term vision to the divisive politics elsewhere.
More of my views on the elections on my other blog here.

Elections and Marketing

1.Who is the target customer? – Young India
65% of India is between 18 and 35 - 2 years in my MBA this was the first line I used to write under target customer of any marketing plan.
And how do you target these young customers – Divisive Hate politics?
Not at all. We, youth are no more concerned about it. People of India are becoming so called Global Citizens erasing the boundaries between countries and here is someone who is attempting to create boundaries of religion, caste etc. No surprise that there were few takers.

2.What are you selling? – Hate or Hope
Congress and all the regional parties who won, especially in Bihar and Orissa, won because they were selling the development. There was NREGA(which affected 38 million households [Source]), Loan waiver etc for the rural masses. For the urban section, it was the image of Congress being a secular party and the prime minister as an honest man.
BJP were not selling anything except de-positioning Congress by a single minded attack on the current prime minister. One of the TV anchors, who attended many BJP rallies, commented that Modi (their only face of development) focused only partially on development. The rest of the speeches had ferocious communal agenda built into them. Many claps at rally but ‘shoegate’ on the real stage.

3. Positioning? - Weak and Strong Netas
More of de-positioning tactics used by BJP. But again they were tactics not a strategy. Weak Prime Minister Logic was only based on the fact that Sonia Gandhi was the party president and common perception held was that she was driving the government. I don’t agree to this line of reasoning but for once even if we believe that is the case, then she is there now too. Right? So she can drive the government again. So what if she sets a direction in which she wants the party and the country to move? Think of them as Mr. Narayana Murthy, the chairman and mentor of Infosys and Mr. Gopalakrishnan, the CEO. Mr. Murthy is not actively involved in the running of the company but he gives a strategic direction. Does that mean Mr. Gopalakrishnan is a weak CEO?

4. Brand Names- Gandhi
Gandhi is definitely one of the biggest brand names in India. People argue that we are enslaved to a family. Well then it can be argued that so are we to other brands – HUL, Airtel, Nokia and so on. Why do we ‘follow’ a brand or become ‘enslaved’ to it – because we think it is good for us, it gives us good value for money. Same is the case with Gandhi Brand name. In the past it has provided us stability and good governance and that is what people needed right now.

5. Brand Extension – Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi is using his family name to his advantage. So do all brands.
They are simply using the same brand name for a different product – a product which appeals to the young India, something which gives hope for the future and which people can trust.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Integrating Mass Customization and Social Networking

‘This is the era of Mass Customization”, our Operations professor has repeated this line innumerable times in each class.
Mass Customization is “producing goods and services to meet individual customers needs with neat mass production efficiency”. (definition: Tseng and Jiao (2001, p. 685)
The famous example was of TVS Scooty, where the outer frame, which is colored is separate from the rest of the machine and according to demand the plastic frame of desired color is put on ‘Just in time’.
Another example was that of Asian Paints where one has the option of mixing the colors on a computer kiosk in Asian Paint Shops and then that customized paint.
Reebok has taken the concept one step ahead in the shoe industry and combining it with mobile technology. The users have option of 3 shoe designs where they can customize what colors/materials they want in their shoes. And all this from their I-phones in an interesting, user friendly application. [Link]
If the integration of Mass Production, Customization and Mobiles was not enough, a social networking angle has been added too. These days we love to share our lives – anything from an insignificant “feeling bored” to sharing marriage pics. So why not let the world that you are getting a customized shoe from Reebok which has X, Y, Z colors and looks like this.
Quite innovative of Reebok to get into their consumer’s lives and interact with them almost one to one.
Talking of trends, Reebok will have a powerful tool once they put up all the designs being purchased on a Google Map. Interesting insights about consumer behavior can be in store for them there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


On top right corner of Hindustan Times today there was an interesting announcement: Now you can follow HT on Twitter.
Twitter, is not yet as famous as Facebook or orkut in India but then it is not something in the league of those social networking sites. Twitter is something like only the “what are you doing” section of FB. You have 140 words. You can write what you are up to so that your friend know or may be a post a miniature blog which will be relayed to the people “following” you (in other words your friend list).
But in case of Twitter, the usages have surpassed the normal Facebook Time Pass stuff. Reason? It can be done through your mobile phone also. You just need to send an sms and the message will be ‘Tweeted’ where all your followers will be able to read it (through web or mobile).
It is this simple fact that Twitter involves Mobile Phones, that it has the great potential in the Indian Market. Internet doesn’t reach everybody but 300 million people in this world are connected by mobiles. And that makes it a powerful tool.

Journalism: Twitter is being widely used for Journalism. It can be used both for collection and distribution of news. There have been instances where people know about any incident before the conventional media even hears about it. It adds a new dimension to the aspect of Citizen Journalism.

Travel: It could work something like this. You are travelling for the first time to Mumbai. While visiting the gateway, you feel hungry, so you tweet, asking about any good place nearby. Someone on your followers list gets it, replies back: Try Café Mondegar or Try Bade Mian behind Taj. Sounds improbable? Well. Not really. There was an initiative [link] by UK Guardian wherein they decided not to plan anything but just getting feedback using twitter.

Politics: How wonderful it would be if Twitter can be used by to let know of politicians about the development work they are doing for the constituency. British PM Office is there on twitter and is used it to constantly update people. In this case, mostly may be journalists but it can turn out to be a very good way to be in touch with people. It may be limited to a very less percentage of population but well no harm trying!

Immense opportunities for Marketers. All your viral campaigns can be run through twitter (obviously you need to keep things interesting on a continuous basis for people to follow you)
These followers can also help you in test marketing any new products or give live feedbacks to any new initiatives. Of course, getting people to follow you is a difficult task if it is known that it is being done for selling something. It has to be more informal and friendly. Even if you can market it to a select group of followers who have their network of spreading the word, your work is done. As Seth Godin says, "The cool thing is that now, everyone has ten times as many friends as they used to. The social graph online is a fascinating, exponential factor in growing the list of people who might be willing to hear what you have to say (once).” [link]
By the way, I am on twitter at:

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Nano effect

Brand is important for a company. Why? Because it gives something that the consumers/customers can directly correlate to a notion, a thought, an adjective in their mind in an instant.
When you think TATA, something like Trustworthy, Reliable, Honest comes to mind. With the backing of that strong Brand that Tata has already built, next one seems to be in-line – NANO.
Already to the millions of minds of this country as well as the world, Nano means Cheap and small. And now they are extending it further with the Nano Housing.

Weeks after launching the much-hyped Rs 1-lakh car, another Tata Group company today unveiled an ambitious project called Shubh Griha, which will offer low-cost homes at under Rs 5 lakh across the country to tap the large and lucrative market for affordable houses. [Link]

The bottom of the pyramid market is really huge and the after the miniature products by FMCG companies, Tatas seem to have really caught the pulse of the funda of BoP market by entering it in Big ways. What can be expected in future. May be Taj Nano - small, low budget hotels. Or Voltas-Nano – small, inexpensive AC’s which can cool the Nano-Homes.

May be a full Nano City can be created (replacing the villages???)- Nano Houses, people only have Nano Cars, Nano Hotels, Powered by exclusive Nano-Power Plants.
Way to go Mr. Ratan Tata!!!!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Common Man and Environment

Recently, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded provided me a good dose of Environmental concerns around the globe today. It was this dose that led me to think if a common man is really concerned about environment at all or should these issues be left to the government to be solved on a macro level.
The first question is - Is it really happening? Well, the statistics, videos, photos, documentaries (happened to see one on Discovery recently) - all point to the fact that some drastic changes are really happening. And it indeed needs attention – much more attention than it is getting at present.
But are we concerned about it at an individual level? I don’t think so. We definitely complain that this time around the heat wave is terrifying and started much before it used to happen 5 years ago. There are status messages of how the temperatures in Delhi are breaking 10 year old and 50 year old records. But again we are not really bothered. If the outside temperatures are up, our AC Panel will show a lower temperature. And we can sit pretty comfy. If there is lack of water, electricity, it can be blamed on the government. Traffic problems can be attributed to the rapid development that we are witnessing. The statistics are merely numbers or a news report. Nothing can be directly attributed to the environment. And it may be too harsh to blame us for not being concerned. We are rapidly developing and urbanizing. Why can’t we enjoy a good life?
And even if we want to act environment friendly – what incentives, motivation do we have? Before that, the million dollar question is what do we need to do to be environmental friendly? Refuse take the plastic bag from the shop, don’t use the AC, refrigerators because of some Chloro-Floro Carbons which I cannot even see?

Ultimately it is up to the governmental organizations to implement plans and policies which on a macro level and in the long run will be helpful in saving the environment. But then again, it has to tread the fine line between development and environment. The priority according to the manifestos of 2 leading political parties is quite clear. Both talk of development in BOLD letters while the environment is a 10 – 15 line mention somewhere on the 20th page.
It was a funny feeling when I went through the 11 points the party had mentioned to protect environment. If you had put a question “What steps can be taken to protect environment in India” to a MBA Class, you can expect a similar kind of ‘Gas’ Answers.

Banning of plastic bags in shops has been implemented in cities like Chandigarh. Guess, that is where a start that can be done on a pan-India basis. It also ensures active participation from the citizens to some extent. Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is another initiative which is compulsory by law before start of a new project in an area. It involves active participation from citizens and people from an area where the project is coming up. They can give their feedback on environmental issues that the project may bring about. Often EIA’s of many projects have been in news for all the wrong reasons.
If right reasons and correct incentive is provided, a common man can also play his or her part in the protection of environment which so desperately needs contribution from all quarters.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Asiad to HRC: The MBA Journey

Well, strange way to define the MBA journey but this heading got stuck in the head when I entered HRC on the last day of my MBA life – which if I see in hindsight was a 2 year of dream journey. Something I had hoped but never expected in my life.
It all started at Hotel Asiad. Amit and I had just landed up in Mumbai and after dumping our stuff in the hostel-flat – later branded as 3HMV(and we as 3Hmvees), were looking for a place to eat a hearty (and economical) meal on a hot and humid day. We walked and searched till we reached Hotel Asiad. Looked fine, had AC and with some butter chicken and Naan, the Mumbai life had begun. What we later learnt was that Asiad was ‘The’ place for NMites. You won’t find a person in the batch who doesn’t know Asiad.
Our vice-chancellor on the opening day had said that time here will pass so quickly that you will never come to notice. It indeed did – specially the first trimester. It was hard work fitting in lectures of 10 subjects in 3 months. And on top of it there were those multiple assignments, tests and aahh.. the presentations.
The presentation part was a weak point and something I wanted to focus on. And indeed, it was a long journey as regards giving presentations is concerned. I remember the first presentation. Trying so hard to get it right. Consulting books whether one should prepare a script and cram it by heart or remember points and speak naturally on stage. Everything was tried. For once, I even tried recording it and analyzing it as part of the preparation. Cut to 2 years later. There were 2 presentations in the last trimester. Just before one of them, I was participating in a dance competition. Rushed to the class immediately after, saw the slides and gave some gyan. I had at least seen the case before hand in this case. The last presentation – I didn’t even know the topic and spoke for 3 slides. Un-imaginable.
The second remarkable aspect was the hostel life. It was for the first time I was living in a hostel kind of environment. Although it was not a perfect Hostel but quite close to it. And it is here that first of the 3 incredible group of friends was formed – the 3HMVees. 3 meaning 3rd floor and HMV for the building name – Hemu Villa. The amazing part was we had people from 4 religions and 4 corners of India living together. Hemu Villa was witness to innumerable discussions (especially when the internet was not working), India’s 20-20 world cup victory, playing dart games and ‘marann pitti’ at 2 in the night, coke bathing on each summer placement, Alok ki kheer, 10 different ways of studying (and non-studying) for exams and the unforgettable 3HMVee awards – all coming together. We had plenty of choices for food here but Hotel Nithyanand is a hands down winner for most orders from 3Hmvees, which includes a record of eating chicken biryani everyday continuously for more than 2 weeks – set by who else but me!! The irony is even after 2 years of ordering food from Nithyanand (conservative personal expenditure estimate of around Rs 15,000 – Rs 20,000) I have not even seen where the hotel exactly is. The best part – after 2 years he even recognized my voice and I just had to give the order!
The second trimester was similar in intensity in terms of subjects and presentations but I guess how to ‘manage’ things was being learnt. So it was not all academics now. Some extra-curricular activities started. And that led to the formation of the super group called Bulls. We started as a class project group and from that emerged a group which brought so many laurels that it got a special mention at the convocation at the end of 2 years. A deadly mix of people, we had the NM flag flying high from Mumbai to Pune to Chennai to Indore to Delhi and all the way to USA. Bulls grossed around Rs 8 lakh worth of prizes by the end of 2 years. The Bull run at the sensex – which inspired the group name, may have turned bearish but this Bull run continued unabated for more than 1 year. What the rosy picture doesn’t tell is the hard times, some failures and some hard fought debates behind the scenes. This was a group of friends largely responsible for the 2 years being a dream that it was. I remember a wonderful discussion – we had sheets of paper strewn across the table, chai and cold drink were sweating away in the side and the special part was the surroundings at Prithvi Café. Prithvi is something unique – in the center and still away from the hustle & bustle of Mumbai, creativity is in the air and you will find such a wide variety of people. From KK Menon having cutting chai, college students doing masti with their gang, people in formal suits pouring into their laptop, Shashi Kapoor idling out in his kurta pyjama, Markand Deshpande in his dreamy world, someone enjoying the intriguing peace with a book and coffee, and an occasional glimpse of other bollywood stars – amazing place.
After the first year, things became a lot chilled out on the academic side - except the 4th trimester which was intense than the whole MBA put together. Anyways, after that with the 5th trim setting in there was that placement pressure lingering on one side and on the other hand another group of friends was in the formation – the fun and party group called KIRDSS. It was KIRDSS who was responsible for the unlimited parties, hanging out, bekar ki bakar – basically chilling out and me finally falling in love with Mumbai. The times were tough (placements!!!) and it was due to this frequent chilling out sessions that some sanity could be maintained and pressure released. And it was not only fun we were having. There were discussions that helped us in our placements too. Improvement on the weaknesses, lending a helping hand wherever required, preparing for those typical interview questions were some alternative aspects of the group apart from other reflections on life as such. Now that the main aim was hanging out so it was now that some favorite addas were born. The first choice was usually Cooper Hospital Canteen. It is hard to fathom that after a meal, we used to leisurely stroll out in front of the emergency ward of the hospital where in sometimes you could hear cries of pain from inside. Ontoes was another hot spot specially after people started getting placed. It was a place when one was in a mood to be a bit lavish. More frequented and lighter on the pocket was Alfredos. Then there was the unmatchable rooftop and the Bhurji-Pav outside Cooper which was reserved for dinners after 2AM.
The last trimester was a haze. Trip to US, participating in dance, play, frequent parties. In fact it had become tough to just manage the parties by the end. Even the farewell by the juniors happened right in the middle of exams – no time for it before or after. And then that feeling of end as everyone started departing one by one. Suddenly it was the end of 2 years of post graduation. And it was decided to celebrate the last day in Mumbai in style at Hard Rock Café – the best one in town. And it was truly amazing. One huge place with rock music written all over it. The memorabilia, the music, the atmosphere– in an instant it became the favorite for all of us.
The journey which had started from Asiad where 5 people could eat stomach full in Rs 350 ended at HRC where a chicken burger cost that much. The progress from Asiad to HRC is just a metaphor to describe the unusual amazing journey which only went upwards in the 2 years at one of the most wonderful place one can have for a student life to be in.
I am one of the lucky few who have been able to enjoy a student life in a cool, laid back place like Chandigarh as well as in a fast paced, hectic, never sleeping and truly rocking Mumbai.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sound of Silence

How often have we heard of this phrase – Sound of Silence. But it was something never experienced. But a recent trip gave an opportunity to actually hear the sound of silence – literally.
Silence is generally considered as no noise from a human being. When you can only hear the nature’s voices – breeze gently ruffling the leaves, a river or a stream lightly going by or may be animals softly chattering away. Basically completely merged with the nature. That had been the definition of silence for me till it happened on the Tawang – Lhasa highway – some 13000 feet above sea level.
The setting was similar - it completely belonged to the nature. The white of the snow and the blue of the sky were the only visible colors with a dash of green provided by the sparse trees. It was a lonely mountain, sun covered by the clouds, a light fog settled around. There was not a whiff of breeze and birds and insects excused themselves from the extreme weather.
As I moved down taking in all the beauty around, I was surprised to hear the peculiar sound of my soaked socks making that “pachh-pachh” sound against the soaked boots. I then realized that there was not a sound around. I stood their motionless for a minute, removed the cap and tried to hear any sound – may be something far away or may be something down below from the army camps – Nothing. Absolutely Blank. No birds or insects. No water. No Air or breeze to ruffle things. No human being even remotely close to disturb the setting. It was still, absolutely still. And then I heard it – The sound of Silence , complete Silence. It was a kind of whistle softly blowing into your ears. I stood there, eyes closed and heard it for a long long time – something that I had never heard and may be will never hear it again in life again…

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BackPacking North East

The trip provided Amazing Spectacles

The original plans had started off with a back-packing trip across Europe. Ultimately, keeping in mind all kinds of restraints it ended up being finalized to North East India. And it was quite a trip – plans changing every day, every moment during the sojourn. The 3 people had something in common. All three names started with ‘S’ and their company’s name started with ‘I’. Sanchit and I caught the morning flight from Delhi while Suvo reached Guwahati from Kolkata. We were to travel and trek for the next 12 days.
The final destinations encompassed 3 states – Assam, Arunachal and Meghalaya. The first destination was Tawang - a small town situated literally in the lap of the magnificent Himalayas. The first morning was a sight to remember. It was bright and sunny, clear blue sky and wherever you looked you had snow peaked mountains staring down at you.

Paradise Lake at Sela Pass

It was truly breathtaking. Next 4 days were spent at Tawang. In that for 2 days we trekked, climbed the nearest mountains and altitudes of around 4000 feet to snow ranges. The whole region is army dominated. There are different posts at different heights and it was a close range view of how tough the army life was there in that area. For us, it was remarkable. For them, it was routine and tough. Apart from the treks to PTSO lake – a small water body amazingly unfrozen at 13,500 feet, we also saw the Tawang Monastery – largest in India and second largest in Asia. We also found out that the town went dead at 8.00 PM. The shops close down by 6 – 6.30. There was a electricity cut for 1 – 1.5 hours at 7.30 PM everyday and any traces of ‘night life’ left went off at that time. It was tough resisting a comparison with Mumbai. Another interesting thing was the internet penetration. In Tawang where there was no Mobile connectivity (in fact mobile was off for the whole North East trip) and where a call from a STD/PCO took around 3 minutes to connect – still the place had a cyber café with broadband with decent speed and cheap prices (even the computers were quite modern with flat LCD screens and all)

PTSO Lake: The trek Objective standing at more than 13,500 feet

After 4 long days and 5 nights in Tawang, we left back for Tezpur. The plan was to go to Guwahati from there and then carry on to Tinsukia, Miao and finally to Namdapha – which is a rare Tiger reserve at the extreme East end of India. But destiny had some other plans. On the way to Tezpur, we were stopped and our huge back packs checked 3 times. Then we came to know that serial bomb blasts had taken place that very evening in the area – it was ULFA's rising day next day. Neverthless, Suvo’s uncle was contacted and he gave a green signal to come to Namdapha where special permission had to be taken to enter the area. We found buses leaving from Tezpur itself so booked ourselves. We had an hour to leave so decided to quickly check our mail once. By the time we reached back and Suvo made another call to his uncle to confirm the plans, everything had changed. The bomb blast news had just reached them and we were asked to drop all plans and go to Shillong. The original plan was in fact quite interesting. Had we gone ahead with it, we would have traversed through whole of Assam on the eve of ULFA rising day to the place which allegedly has headquarters of 4 terrorist organizations. May be its good that we went to shillong ;)
Anyways, it was time to check in to a hotel at Tezpur for the night. It was Sanchit’s birthday that day so had a celebration dinner for the most extraordinary birthday of his life. Next morning we left for Shillong. Shillong was a typical tourist destination – not different from our very own Shimla. After checking into a hotel, we enquired about the treks and places to visit. Days here were also full of uncertainty. Plans were deliberated on, discussed, searched, quashed and still changed even after climbing on the bus. The trek to Living root bridge – a rare one found only in India was quite exhausting but enjoyable – through the jungles of Cherapunjee, crossing wire mesh bridges, arduously climbing mountains. The place known for world’s highest rainfall had a harsh sun shining on us on 2 days.

The only double decker living root bridge in the world - Cherrapunjee

Return journey from there was equally exciting. It was a small tribal village that we reached. According to information gathered, there were hourly buses till 3 PM. But our 2.5 hour stay in the middle of the road till 2.30 PM didn’t witness anything which could take us back to shilling. Eventually we took lift in an Ambulance to Sohra (local name of Cherapunjee) from where we took a cab to Shillong.
It was a long journey back from Guwahati but the air journey provided some magnificent spectacles – firstly of the huge mountain peaks of Himalayas and the plains down below in a single view. Secondly of views of 2 other aeroplanes from our plane.
It was one of the longest travel trips I have ever had. The longest time that the Mobile phone was tucked away in the bag. And a rare one where life safety had to be factored in before making some of the decisions. The landscapes , the treks, the grueling bending roads, rare sites and cities – everything has left a distinct mark on the memory – a cherish able mark.

Peaks and the Plains: View from the Aeroplane

Monday, March 09, 2009

Day 8...

Final day... Big Day...
It seemed like we had been in seattle for years where it was hardly a few days.
The morning was a bright sunny one. Perfect day for a perfect competition. Raka had stayed with me overnight and we left early morning for the university and reached there by 7.30.
Had light breakfast and practiced some more for the preliminary round or in other words the semi finals. 5 out of the 14 teams were to be shortlisted after this round. At around 9, we left for the HUB where our presentation was scheduled at 9.30. We met Suzy there and she encouraged us more before our presentation. We entered the room with 7 judges and few audience at 9.30. The presentation was for 10 minutes. It went flawless - exactly as planned. The next 10 minutes questions and answers happened. They too went without any major hurdles. In fact we think we gave more than what was needed.
It was a satisfied, happy and confident bunch of 4 that came out of the room.

With Suzy

Lunch was scheduled for 11.30 and we decided to use the time and the excellent weather for some more exploration and photo clicking.
We got a few minutes late for the lunch in this whole process. We had 2 of the judges waiting for us at lunch where in they gave us some valuable feedback and also questioned us more on our plan and the business environment in India with respect to our plan.
The final five finalists were announced just as we were finishing our lunch. We were in. Through a random chit pickup we were slotted to be the 3rd one to give the presentation.
We had not seen what the hall looked like or how many people were there inside. And it was a much bigger hall full with people that met us when we entered at the time of giving our presentation. We had the next 20 minutes with us and again we delivered what we had practiced so hard. We were much more confident this time around though made a few mistakes (which hopefully only we noticed). Ankit, raka and I came out after our presentation and roamed about in the university campus - much more relaxed.
The results were not announced after the final round of presentations. They were to be announced at the Banquet Dinner at Fremont Studios. All the teams then moved to the venue then. The setup was lavish there. But before that, there was another round of elevator pitch with our posters setup – like the one we had on Wednesday. It was not a graded round so the atmosphere was much lighter. We also took the opportunity to interact to a couple of other teams and heard their projects. It was basically a time to network and interact with the top bosses of many companies like Microsoft. The most interesting, though was the one with the COO of Theo Chocolate - the Chocolate Factory in Seattle. We had heard about it the previous day and that it was open to the public where one could go in for a tour of the factory and see how chocolate is prepared. We were offered a tour at that very time. But it being not possible at that time, he offered us a pack of fresh chocolates. It was quite an overwhelming gesture.

At Trade Show II

Meanwhile we were also interviewed by a TV Channel. It was time for dinner then. A full banquet dinner with all kinds of forks, knives etc were last experienced only at a sample lunch at Infy’s Cross Cultural training session. It was a first time real experience. Everyone was given a table number and it was made sure that a variety of people were seated at each table. We had some nice discussions on cultural differences in India and US there. Time flew as we ate and talked. The keynote speaker on the occasion, Dr. William Foege gave an interesting presentation. Finally, it was time for the awards. The first one was the investors choice award – given for the trade show which was held on Wednesday. It went to the team from Princeton University. Next in line were the 2 prizes by department of global health. We were strongly expecting to get one of these. But there was disappointment when we didn’t win either of the two. A slight dejection feeling was sinking in now. It was the final award – the Grand Prize of $10,000. And there was that euphoric moment when our name was announced as the winners. The moments after that are in a blur.

The Moment

We hugging, getting a standing ovation, going to stage, hoards of cameras clicking, everyone wishing us. We first went to Suzy who had patiently guided us all along followed by photos and more photos. And then suddenly everything ended.

Center of Attraction

I took a cab back to Anu’s place, went out for a dessert in a fabulous hotel downtown. We had a flight early morning the next day. It was already 2AM. So Anu, raka and I had a night out.
So some of the last moments at Seattle were quite similar to when we arrived – dark outside, a beautiful view of the city and the lake from Anu’s living room with the space needle promptly standing out amongst it all – similar to the last 8 days which simply stand out in the life till now.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Day 7..

Day 7: 26 February

What a start to the day. As usual got up at 5 and it was a city covered with snow that said Good Morning! It had snowed through the night and it was serene everywhere. The real problem started later. The bus service was badly hit. No buses were plying. I waited for it for around an hour. Ordered cab – and again waited. Finally, Binay had to drop me on his way to office. And it was just in time for the feedback session presentation scheduled at 9.30. Here we gave the presentation which was supposed to be a final drill for the grand competition next day. The judges gave us feedback on which we worked on for some time. In between we also found out time to have photo ops in the snow cover around the campus. Sreejith booked an appointment with Suzy – the faculty for communications and leadership programs at UW. She is a former theater actor and teaches presentation skills. She spent more than 2 hours with us – giving us tips, suggestions and hearing out our presentation – and helping it to completely revamp it.

One thing that Americans do is appreciate others really honestly and expressively – to the point it becomes embarrassing (may be we Indians are not good at giving or receiving appreciation)
We received a lot of this appreciation and hence confidence in ourselves. The presentation was significantly changed and practiced again and again and again to the point of being extremely meticulous. In fact, timings were taken on each slide, extra flab was cut wherever necessary and it resulted in lots of information being packed into the 10 minutes we had (the point was later appreciated by 1 of the judges in the preliminary rounds as well)

All this while we also made new friends – all from different countries from Ghana to Canada to Mexico – everywhere. The day ended with Raka and me running to his friends house in Redmond and getting his stuff over to Anu’s place so that we could leave easily for the airport next day. So it was 48 to Montlake, changing to 545 to Redmond. Back on 545 to MontLake and then 43 to Broadway. We are now adept at moving around in Seattle..

Monday, March 02, 2009

Day 6..

Day 6: 25th February

It was the start of the real thing – the competition. The whole process started with the orientation in the afternoon. Some forms were filled in, basic rules were set and we were given the Foster B School bags. ;)
It was followed by the first competition – The trade show. It was an interesting concept. All teams were given spaces in a big hall where they had to set up their posters and make elevator pitches – basically 1 – 2 minutes of pitch to potential investors who would come to them. There were 25 mock investors who were given $1000 and they had to divide that into 3 teams which they think that would give them the best returns. It was a long 2 hours. With all of the investors coming in each one of us kept on talking the same thing over and over- again and again. And it went on more than 2 minutes. There were questions from everyone which had to be handled up to the last detail. Ultimately it was an incredible session – a first experience which left us mentally and physically drained.

The trade show was followed by dinner where through a ice breaking session we interacted with some other teams. A practice round of presentations where we would get feedback as a preparation for the final thing was scheduled early next morning so despite the extreme mental exhaustion preparation had to be done for it and an hour’s session followed the dinner.
As I reached home an interesting weather was taking shape – it started to Snow!

Day 5

Day 5: 24th February

It’s amazing how much you can experience in a day. It started with a visit to Microsoft. The most amazing experience there was the Future Home designed by techies at MS. It was futuristic – but not so futuristic. It was very easy to believe that such homes would be a reality in the next 5 – 10 years.
It used simple technology of RFID (in everything that there is at home) and light bulbs with smart chips (not at all an expensive option in near future). Just few examples of the usage – which we actually saw in the future home. You take out milk from the refrigerator and place it close to the mixer. Some recipes involving milk which will be used in a mixer will be displayed on the kitchen surface from an overhead intelligent bulb. If you chose a recipe which, say involves choco chips and the refrigerator doesn’t have it, the Home will announce that you are out of choco chips and cannot make that particular dish.
Further, what you have on your computer screen can be seen on the TV or the walls of the room. When we wanted to see where the planet Jupiter was w.r.t the sun, the whole room got converted to a planetarium showing Jupiter’s position. There is no need to paint the walls. You can have it re-designed as and when you like by just by announcing to the home that you need some kind of a setting. It will change the color on the wall, change the photographs on the electronic photo frames – basically you won’t feel it is the same room. It’s tough to describe the whole 1 hour experience in which we actually were in the future.

Microsoft Office: A slight Deja vu of Infosys

After this awesome experience, Binay, Anu and I went to the space needle. The 360 degree view of Seattle from the top of the 600 foot tower is breath taking. More than that it is fascinating to see how the Americans market it. Cameras were installed on the top and you could see the whole city standing at one place and moving the camera with a joystick. Interactive touch screens were installed to give information about the part of the city that you are viewing at a particular point. We got out of the air conditioned enclosure only for a few seconds and were blown away by the super chilly winds at that height.
The dinner was Pan Asian today and time to again learn something – using chopsticks. I learnt it quite quickly and went on eating for sometime using the sticks but it was tiring after some time. Such a fascinating day full of experiences is of course tiring and it was tough to think of anything else apart from the bed on reaching home.

Observation Deck of Space Needle

Day 4..

Day 4: 23rd February

Duong showing us around the UW campus

The first official day of the GSEC week. And it was quite awesome. The day started early with leaving for the college early. It was a bright sunny day. Sreejith and I landed up in the Balmer Hall – a common room where we sat comfortably with our laptops and tried to access the net. There were few terminals where the net kept on disconnecting at frequent intervals. After working on the presentation for some time we moved for lunch and a tour of the UW with our student ambassador. Lunch was Mexican – Chicken Burrito. It is like a big Roti which has lots of things like rice, salads, chicken etc stuffed inside. Tough to eat the whole but I was hungry. Duong Dang, our student ambassador took us for a tour of the beautiful UW campus. The most fascinating was the Suzzallo Library. Tough to resist comparing your own library with the one here. But not tough for me as there was no comparison at all.

Suzzallo Library

It was a visit to Path – a company involved in global health by technological innovation. Met some other teams from different countries here. And it was quite amazing to sit around a table with from so many backgrounds and listening to them. The Pat h had some interesting innovations which it was trying to bring to the improve health in collaboration with different partners in the developing countries.
In the evening it was time to try another cuisine – Italian. And it was not the simple Pizza that we generally think of under the Italian category. Under Anu’s able guidance we had Bruschetta, Rivoli, Gnocchi, Tiramisu and Mussels - though now it is tough to remember which was which (Excuse me for any spelling mistakes I have done in these dish names). Damn I am getting more interested in trying out new cuisines. After dinner it was a ride to the east side of Seattle from where we could get a magnificent view of the city.

Amazing view of Seattle

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day 3

Day 3: 22nd February, 2009
Day 3 belonged to Walmart. Woke up early at 6.30 AM (guess the jet lag is still not out). Sky Diving was cancelled today – it was the bad weather this time. Guess that is one thing that has to be there in the bucket list for some more time to come. Nevertheless, no regrets for that. The lunch was Mediterranean at Flowers - a place jointly owned by a European man and his Indian wife. The combo was well visible in the buffet.
Walmart as expected was huge. The main aim was to shop around a bit but it is a bad place to go when you don’t know what you have to buy. One gets lost in the massiveness. After struggling for a couple of hours we moved to an adjacent complex which was full of factory outlets of all possible brands. Some browsing around and after some coffee at Starbucks, it was decided to go to Redmond where Raka was putting up with his friends. Time for the 1st bus ride of Seattle. The one at NY was easier as it was more like a tourist bus with 3 main popular stops. This time around it was a local bus. Raka, the 2 day bus ride veteran was the guide. His friend’s place was like a typical bachelor house though more refined than the ones in India. We learnt Minimizer, a new card game – quite enjoyable I must say. The residential campus – just across Microsoft was quite similar to the Infy mysore campus. Or should I say Infy campuses are deeply inspired from MS. The return journey was independent of the veteran raka and after some struggle we were able to reach home – getting lost in the dark on the way.

1. There was a survey by Reader’s Digest that people in Mumbai are not courteous as compared to ones in US or Europe etc. Don’t know about other places but people here are definitely much much more courteous – especially in buses.

2. We threw away our bus tickets after completing one leg of the journey but the ticket here is valid for all journeys within 3 hours. On our way back, by chance we got into the same bus and the driver recognized us and updated us about this. He didn’t take any money and gave us new tickets for our 2nd leg of the journey.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Day 2

Day 2: 21st February, 2009

Snoqualmie Falls

Well.. the jet lag effect had its say on the first morning in Seattle. After hitting the bed at 3AM, I remember watching the wrist watch at 6.30 AM last. And then as if something hit and it was deep slumber till Sreejith woke me up. It was 2PM and I had already said bye bye to plans of Sky diving on a bright sunny day.
Had breakfast errr.. lunch – a big chicken sandwich at Broadway. (Though they call something else a sandwich – what we normally know as hot dog kind of thing). Travelled to Snoqualmie Falls – a half hour ride South of Seattle. Did some hiking down to the waterfall there. Amid the nice chill. Then had coffee at Starbucks. One thing noticeable is the huge servings of quantity here – be it dinner, lunch or coffee. On the way back saw Anu’s hospital Virginia Mason – her working place to be precise and got to know the ultra modern processes and facilities available there. It was a trip downtown then. Seattle touches the pacific ocean so had a nice walk alongside it. We went to meet Anu & Vinay’s friends then. It was something like you see in HIMYM or friends – café below their flat. Someone sitting in a corner playing games on his mobile, others chit chatting and most of them with their laptops on coding, researching and having coffee. There are plenty of cafes in Seattle with a similar ambience. It was dinner time – Ethiopian this time. Nice food – with a similarity to Indian food. We had a big dosa kind of thing with Dal (2- 3 types), Paneer.. ok cheese etc around like a thali. And everyone gorging on it. Time to move to a sports bar – a huge complex with pool tables, TT tables, a huge video games section, Dance floor etc. You lose track of time in a place like this – after rounds of video games, pool and TT. That’s what pretty much ended the short day.

Breaking rules???

Insight: If everyone follows the traffic rules any place can look so good.
The laws are too many, well defined and well followed here. For example, you don’t cross the road wherever you like – only at a zebra crossing and only when the light is green for you. Imagine someone coming from Mumbai and told to follow these rules and regulations. No wonder it took me a couple of days to adjust to it.