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?