Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marketing Gap

This article lists my learning from Prof. Ram Kumar’s Marketing sessions and my thought extrapolations on the same. The professor left us with a few ideas and hints to provoke our thinking. This article is an attempt to finish the thought that he kindled.

Scenario 1: How much does an average middle class person spend for the trousers and jeans he wears? Say Rs. 800 to 1000

How much does the same person spend for a shirt, T-shirt or a top? Say Rs. 500 to 700.

And how much does he/she spend on the undergarments? Hardly Rs 30.

The discrepancy is for all to see. People spend 70% of their life in their undergarments. Some people spend even more time in them; they take them off only during ablution and defecation. The undergarments are essential for our comfort and hence make the foremost contribution towards making us confident. If you doubt the confidence part then try wearing a misfit. Also, wearing a good quality undergarment prevents you from so many disorders. And yet we spend so less on them than the outer clothing we wear.

My take:
Isn’t this ‘individuality’ and ‘healthful living’ a marketing gap that undergarments companies should try to tap? Shouldn’t these companies appeal to every individual’s ‘dormant’ desire of living the life for himself or herself for a change?

Scenario 2:
On a normal day, how much time do we spend in the
washroom? 15-30 mins.
drawing room? Max 1.5 to 2 hours
Kitchen? Gender specific but say max 3-4 hours
Bedroom? Assuming a normal person sleeps for 8 hours, we spend atleast 9 hours there.

Now the critical question: which part of our house do we spend maximum on?

Undoubtedly it is the drawing room, right? We spend the most on that part of the house where we don't even spend our maximum time. Compare the money we spend on the drawing room sofa sets and their smooth velvet cushions with the amount you spend on the bedroom mattresses and pillows. Guests come and sit in the drawing room. That is the place that needs to be at its best then. Why should we spend on our bedroom where we go only to sleep? Isn’t it a stark contrast that speaks volumes of the neglect we subject ourselves to? Don’t we pay the price of this through stiff neck at best and spondylosis at worst? Isn’t this the kind of gap that furniture and mattress companies like Ikea need to tap?

My take:
As a society, we’ve evolved giving too much importance to others. We grew up getting conditioned to doing what our parents recommended and not doing what they forbid us from doing. Parents learnt those lessons from their parents and so on. But the essential basis of all those dos and don’ts has been the perspective of others towards our actions. People in our society have evolved wondering what other person in the society would think if they do this and not that. This overbearing importance given to others has forced us to undermine the importance we ideally should’ve given to ourselves. Somewhere, the huge disparity in our spending on our personal comfort through undergarments vis-à-vis the outer clothing or on our personal feel-good factor through bedroom spendings vis-à-vis those on drawing rooms is a fallout of this societal psychosis.

Scenario 3:
How much would the following people cost per month?

A good cook: Rs. 1000
A washerman: Rs. 800
A 24*7 house cleaner: Rs. 2000
A sex worker: Rs 10000
A Personal Relation manager: Rs 10,000
A 24*7 nanny: Rs 7000
A secretary to remind you of your important appointments and deadlines: Rs 6000

Now compare and contrast all these against the cost of a housewife.

My take:
Ergo, can the contribution of a housewife be considered as the sum total of all the above costs that you save? What about the intangible gain of peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about these scores of daily chores which helps you focus better on your core competence which is to become an efficient bread-winner for the family. Pardon me for the crudity of the comparison. While comparing the monetary value of house-wife is the last thing one should do, this comparison nevertheless brings out the stark contrast like none other. If only we could realize the qualitative value that a house-wife brings to our life, we would start looking up to her and give her her due rather than relegating her to a position of nonentity. The housewives themselves need to realize what they’re to the family. That would help them value their self-worth and respect what they do.

Marketing helps change people’s outlook. Certain things were never meant to be a certain way. But societal dynamics force people to make rules out of exceptions and vice-versa. There are always some innate human desires curbed under societal forces. Companies that identify such rules that conflict with the innate human spirit need to bring out and emancipate those souls hankering to break the shackle by attacking that dormant, implicit need. Companies need not go too far to innovate in terms of new products that generate newer needs. There are enough dormant needs that are curbed under the societal forces. The sooner the companies target them, the happier the society at large would be.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The irony of Soft-Skills

Our 2006-07 batch of SP Jain is halfway through the designated one year Global MBA program. We’re done with our stint in Dubai and are taking a much needed break in India before we move on to Singapore for the second and last part of the program. Our last term was grueling to say the least and going by what our Dean Dr. Vijay Sethi says, our stay at Singapore is to beat Dubai stint by miles, for now we’ll be robbed of even the weekends that gave us a little bit of a breather in Dubai.

And what a learning it has been! Just yesterday, I was discussing with my brother, a commerce graduate, the Macroeconomic nuances of pegged and floating currency. While that might just be a fraction of the ocean that Macroeconomics is, the discussion was something I couldn’t have done without undergoing the Dubai SPJCM experience. It has been a whirlpool worth being sucked into.

However, was there anything we could’ve done differently? Was there anything that we students as a batch could’ve handled better? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ We need to change our smug ‘know-all’ attitude towards soft-skills courses and those that deal with Human Relations. The problem, according to me, is that we perceive them to be synonymous to Communication Skills. And isn’t our selection into one of the premiere B-Schools of India proof enough of our good communication skills? After-all, didn't we all take exams like CAT, GMAT, wrote case-studies and essays, underwent Group Discussions and Personal Interviews to get selected for this program? A pretty comprehensive selection procedure I’m sure all would agree. May Hell unleash its fury now on the imprudent soul that still doubts our communication skill. But it is this very haughty attitude which is our undoing, especially because communication skill is just a part of the whole and not the be-all and end-all of it.

Our program at SPJCM entails us to work in three different groups for different purposes. The first one is a special project group for which we have the liberty to choose our team within the first couple of weeks of the commencement of the program while the other two groups are preselected for us. This group is more coherent since people generally handpick the ‘apparently’ better students of the lot. But such a selection has two problems the first of which is a proverbial aphorism – “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The second problem is that people tend to choose only those they are comfortable and friendly with. So, the friendly, humourous and fun-to-be-with people get picked up faster while those perceived to be nagging, inquisitive or overly-studious are left out. This precept sometimes falls flat on its face because of the second rule, “The most sincere and knowledgeable people are not often the best people to hangout with.” Students realize their fallacy when they find that people who are pompously fun-to-be-with are not the best assets in a team. Flamboyance, in most cases, ends up being antagonistic to sincerity since the people who actually work in a group are rarely high profile. It is here that the group formed from the “left-overs” who were partners more out of compulsion than choice do a better job by working silently and sincerely, as is their wont. The other two groups are pre-selected and hence more heterogeneous, both in terms of experience and attitude. You need truckloads of serendipity to end up with a good group where almost everyone contributes. However, it’s only human to have a black-sheep in a group of six.

All these above groups work on various assignments that have atleast one deadline per day. Every choice is a trade-off here. You can’t choose to work with one group without antagonizing another. You can’t please one without relegating the other. You can’t continue neglecting one for long lest you be seen as a worthless moron. Life, in the middle of all this, is a huge management game in itself. It is here that the Soft-Skill and Organization Behaviour courses pitch in. Every time a team member chooses to work for a different group, there is a conflict. Motivating them to work for you is no mean task. God save the groups whose members fall in love with one of the batch-mates. No amount of coaxing, rebuking or imploring can get them out of their self-imposed honeymoon for they prefer to stay in that self-denial state of romantic hangover. Then there are some who just don’t want to work. Then there are some credit-mongers who join the group when it’s time to stand on the podium. So what do you do for them? How do you get them to work for you, especially when you’re only his peer and not his boss?

These are the very issues of conflict and motivation that you face in corporate life. The B-school environment is a fantastic learning ground for such things. But in our self-righteous myth of omniscience for soft-skills, we fail to gauge its importance. Consequently, not a single group succeeded in motivating the Non-Performing Assets (famously called NPAs) of the teams. There, according to me, lies the single biggest scope of improvement for the batch.

The Indian schools and Undergraduate Institutions are partly to be blamed for laying no emphasis on teamwork. We need to inculcate the importance of teamwork in children at an impressionable age. In their quest for ‘individual’ marks and grades, Indian students have forgotten to work for the holistic good. It is amazing what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit. But in the corporate world, your progress depends on your visibility. So how effectively you balance the two contradictions will decide how far you go. We still need to ensure that we communicate to our teams that while claiming credit for something is welcome, plagiarism is not. Soft-skills, ironically, have a very important role to play here.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My myriad moods

Kutte Kamine, Main tera khoon Pi jaaonga...

Manoj Kumar ... The thinker!

Flowery times...

Ogle thru goggle ...

Strip but not tease...

Lost in Oakley

Who am I?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thinking like a Manager

The Indian IT companies may have made the world wake up and notice India but within the company circles there is mass sarcasm that does the rounds. The IT firms have made the word ‘bench’ a byword for ridicule and frustration among the employees. To a victim, it might cast his employer in bad light for lack of projects and demoralize him, making him doubt his own abilities and credentials. Is there a better way of tackling this problem? Is it possible to ameliorate the way a ‘benched’ employee might look at himself and the company? My attempt through this article is to answer this question in the affirmative.

Mr. M Hariharan, our brilliant Cost Accounting professor, discussed a consulting assignment he once worked on. The company in question was a paint manufacturing company. The business model of the company was to produce paints of different colours in bulk and then sell it to wholesalers. The manufacturer wouldn’t sell the paint to anyone needing anything less than 250 kgs of any colour. Shifting production from one colour to another needed a large setup time for cleaning the vessels, removing stains, drying them etc. So he would actually incur some cost in shifting production from one colour to another. So he chose to produce large quantities of a colour in one go rather than shift frequently from one to another.

Think of the problems with this strategy.
• It was cost centric and not customer centric
• Except for wholesalers, not many needed that huge quantity of any single colour
• This stretched inventory turnover as the stocks piled up waiting for a big order
• He lost out on a large number of smaller orders
• Piled up inventory would slowly entail reduced production
• Inflexibility delayed delivery to customer if the colour was not already available

All his problems were solved when he - following our professor’s advice – became more customer centric. He now produced lesser quantities of paints in one go, regularly shifted to different colours and bore the setup cost.

Think of the advantages of this model.
• There was always some amount of any given colour available for sale
• Even if it wasn’t, flexibility ensured that customers’ requirements were met
• Customer was now charged a premium for faster delivery which helped cover setup cost
• The size of the order didn’t matter so he could address all customers’ needs thus increasing his market size
• Inventory turnover was reduced as he was ready to take even the smaller orders

Inventory, as we just saw, is a necessary evil. It gives a cushion of serving an unexpected customer readily and yet becomes a liability once it exceeds a threshold. Crudely put, inventory is to manufacturing what human capital is to IT. The Indian IT companies have always been following a costing model of keeping a safety stock on ‘bench’ and charging the customers for this through overhead costs. Just like the safety stock, the employees on ‘bench’ are very critical to any IT company to overcome any unforeseen exigency. Consider the attrition in the Indian IT companies and this problem would appear even more bothersome. The shadow resource or ‘benched’ employee is thus a conscious choice not only of the vendor but also of the client.

Not many people could’ve taught us Marketing better than Professor Ram kumar did. An IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, he stretched the limit of our thought processes. He made us play a short game while explaining a principle in marketing. He asked us (about 65 of us) to close our eyes and then count from one to twenty individually with only one person speaking at a time. No one was allowed to speak two consecutive numbers. We’d restart if any two students spoke at the same time. With everyone’s eyes closed, no one knew who would speak next; you always felt like speaking next but something would hold you and you would keep quiet and then somebody would speak out the next number after some time. The game was very interesting and after a few days practice we could reach a score of twenty, to our own surprise, amidst cheers of disbelief. So what was the takeaway from this game? Two. First learning has nothing to do with this article and yet is a valuable learning - human beings communicate at the subconscious level. When our goal became the same and grew stronger with every failure, our collective subconsciousness inhibited all but any one person from speaking until we reached our goal. Second learning was a statement that the professor repeated every time we bungled and had to restart the counting. He used to say, “Let us start again. Be patient. Remember that those who are not speaking are contributing equally to our cause.” This was the statement that hit me hard and gave me goose bumps all through this game. I never spoke for the entire game just to experience the thrill of contributing through silence.

So what has that got to do with employees on bench? This game conveys the idea that even without a tangible contribution to the company’s cause, such employees’ contribution is no less than those making a tangible contribution.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” talks of finding a meaning in any state of life, even in the most sordid ones, to help one live a better life. In the book, he cites an incident where unemployed youth who feel dejected, demoralized and worthless due to their inability to land a job are asked to volunteer for social service until they get a job. After realizing the worth of their voluntary work, these youth realize the meaning of their existence and feel a growing sense of self-worthiness which leads to happiness at best and reduction of inferiority complex at worst.

This is precisely where IT companies have failed. They’ve have failed, not because they keep employees on bench, but because they’ve not effectively communicated the ‘benched’ employee’s worth to the victim himself. This becomes all the more important when, as shown by above examples, an employee’s output is directly related to his sense of self-worthiness, which in turn is associated to the meaning he associates to any state he is in, be it productive or buffer. Keeping the employees motivated is a titanic task for Human Resource Department of any company. They can ill-afford to ignore a threat to motivation which is as glaring as keeping them on 'bench'. This idea should
hence be drilled in their minds during the new joinee's orientation to make their state of mind and self-esteem impervious to 'bench.'

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Who am I?

I am Kamlesh Acharya. Simple, isn’t it? But am I really the name the world knows me with? I guess not. So? Am I the physical body that moves around various places on earth? Not quite. I think I’m something deeper than the body. Am I the mind? Well, may be. But at times my mind works even when I sleep; do I then say that I’m working? I guess I’m not the mind then. So am I the soul? Well, may be; may be not. While these questions always rustle in my monologues, I don’t quite know how to answer them.

On 4th Aug 2006, Prof Debasis Chatterjee from IIM Lucknow visited SP Jain and took a guest lecture on leadership. While his leadership talk was inspiring, what grabbed the students’ attention most was the high Spiritual Quotient of his speech. He spoke fluently as if reading from a book; being an author of a few books would’ve definitely helped clarify his thought process. He delivered the lecture from his heart and brought the crowd to a mesmerizing introspection through his true words, insightful speech and a high SQ’ed visage to corroborate. Throngs of students just swarmed him after the lecture got over - something I had never seen in any of the previous lectures even when the guests were equally impressive and scholarly in their domain. I believe the difference here was that Prof. Chatterjee managed to touch a chord of our dormant self somewhere and the swarm supported this thought of mine. I was a part of that crowd and a mute spectator. I saw fellow students talking to him, barely able to control tears of joy in their eyes as others simply observed him and gathered the pearls of wisdom that fell from his mouth. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people impressed with him. Like an avid businessman looking for an opportunity, I realized that the iron is hot and waiting to be struck. So, Dhruv Patel, Kush Bohra and I invited our batch-mates to form an esoteric group of people ready to introspect and look within for answers.

A digression of thought is warranted here. Be it in business or otherwise, isn’t MBA all about finding opportunities for what you want to do and executing your plan when it yields the most?

We roped in Prof. Mala Kapadia - our Human Resource Management professor – to lend authenticity and discipline to the group by forming some ground rules. She was more than happy to oblige. She took our first session and forced us to think deeper and introspect harder. She left us wonderstruck with her simple logical flow of thoughts.

After that session, we’ve had three session conducted by us – the students. We’ve discussed topics like ‘Demystifying God’, ‘True Knowledge’ and ‘Learnings from the Bhagwad Gita on Work.’

Through this group and our meetings, we might not know ‘who we are.’ But by sharing the knowledge with each other, we end up learning a lot from others’ thoughts. Through these sessions, we might not reach the core of true knowledge but we’ve started gnawing at its peripheries for sure.

An interesting incident to end with.

I offered to take the first session of “Who am I?” after Prof. Mala. I called my session “Demystifying God” and sent a mail across to the group. An eager beaver I met thereafter told me that he found the topic really interesting and wondered what I’m going to talk about. I told him to wait and watch. The impatient guy that he was, he told he would search for it. Before I reveal my reply, a small digression to surprise you is not uncalled for.

Our Marketing Management professor Mr. Ramkumar told us some statistical facts released by Google.

From within India, the most searched word on Google last year was ‘S**.’
From within the US, the most searched word on Google last year was ‘God.’

I told the edgy friend, ‘You can’t search God on Google.’
P.S. One of the subjects that is setting tongues wagging at Harvard Business School is also on the same lines. Isn't it wonderful that what is taught by professors there at Harvard is a student initiative here at SP Jain? Check out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Picture or thousand words?

This is the first time I've included in my blog something that is not my creation. For the first time in my writing experience, I find words redundant.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Help me evolve...

Seeking your reply, I again write.
In sheer despondency, my face is contrite.
Oh my Aphrodites! have mercy on me.
If you like it then kiss, else kill me...

What good does it do, to hold it
within you, your views on my work?
When all I need is an honest feedback;
a job you shouldn't shirk.

An aphrodisiac to romance my thoughts;
that's what your view is to me.
An honest critique of yours will
help this poet evolve and just be.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

First Week at SP Jain Dubai

When dreams turn to reality, the first reaction is of disbelief. Then comes the realization that you’re experiencing what you’d always dreamt of. And yet, the feeling is mixed. The ecstasy is overruled by fear; a fear that you somehow don’t belong to the place – a fear of failure; what if you don’t prove yourself from hereon?

It’s a proud feeling to be chosen to represent some of the brighter brains and smarter people of the lot. And yet, it is a humbling feeling; humbling - for no matter how smart you’re - you always have someone smarter than you here. No matter how intelligent you’re, there is always someone more intelligent than you here. Every brain has a better half here. Every pride meets its vanquisher here. Every wit has a repartee here.

I had always dreamt of doing an MBA from a premier B-school. After quite a few years of toil and unsuccessful attempts at entrance exams, I made it to SP Jain Dubai. Having worked with IT industry for a few years, I had seen IT industry from close quarters. Through projects, products and consulting, I had seen IT vertical at the micro level. I now wanted to work at the macro level. I was sick and tired of being directed by the organization; I now wanted to direct the way the organization went.

I left my home in India on my birthday. That might not seem too emotional a farewell until you know that I was spending my first birthday in ten years with my family. As fate would have it, I just couldn’t have left a day later – or earlier – as the session was starting soon thereafter.

So here I was in Dubai; dreaming, like everyone else, and visualizing how it all is going to turn out. The next day, Sudeep Jain, my batch mate, took me to the college and then to the hostel which actually is a villa.

Then started the real nightmare. I was the first person to arrive in the by-now-infamous ‘blue’ villa. The villa was being readied for the students who were to arrive that night and the preparation were running late even for them; I arrived that afternoon. I entered the premises of the villa to a shocking sight of carpenters and labourers going about their business. If it were not for the girls accompanying me to show me the way to the villa, my entry would not have surprised many and I would’ve been mistaken for another labourer at best or would’ve had to share their load at worst. I felt like a chief guest who arrived for the function before time. After a few hours of moving around like a zombie, I got some water to drink and freshen up. By late evening a group of about forty guys arrived in the villa and it suddenly was not a bad place to be in.

But that by no means was the end of villa ‘blues’. For more than a week we had a torrid time in the restrooms. I once had to ask my roommate to pass me drinking water bottles so I could wash the soap foam after the shower had so dramatically stopped when I needed it most. Restrooms were never the reason we prayed so hard. Luckily the prayers were answered and water never played truant when I was on the closet. The sale of deodorants in the adjoining grocery had suddenly seen a spurt. But thanks to our woes, I learnt some early lessons in economics – outside of my class: The increase in sale of a commodity may not always be due to excellent strategies of companies but due to unexpected exigencies of totally unrelated societal dynamics.

Our dean Mr. Vijay Sethi had, on our first orientation day, told us – perhaps very intentionally – to look at the bigger picture and ignore the teething problems. This advice stood us in good stead, for the administration issues put a shoddy picture in the initial week but the professors at the same time were excellent to say the least. I didn’t get worked up for I wondered what my condition would be had it been the other way round.

The professors at SP Jain Dubai need a mention here. They are sincerity and commitment personified. This stands true atleast for those we’ve seen in this short span. I was talking to an alumna the day I arrived at SP Jain and she told me that the best thing about this place are the professors. And I thanked heavens. A man of knowledge is of no use if he doesn’t know how to impart knowledge. The assignments, tests and group works ensure that we keep awake till late in the night. We have pre-session tests that ensure we read our stuff so there is a better class participation. But that also means, we’re kept on tenterhooks.

The other day I asked my roommate, “How many days we’ve been together?”
We both were shocked to realize that it had been only three days since the classes started. And it looked like we hadn't slept for ages.

I was to learn another management lesson the hard way. My earlier stint here in Dubai got me in touch with a few good caterers. I approached one of them to deliver food in the campus. He charged a very reasonable Dhs 5 a meal. It so turned out that he delivered so much in one meal that we ended up sharing the meal. There was such a downpour of people taking the meal that a lot of those who paid had no meal left for them. I started supervising the distribution but to no avail. I did not take lunch for two days so others who had paid could eat. It took me three days to realize the discrepancy and solve the problem. Now the students eat a meal at Dhs 2.5 which by all means is cheaper than what we get in India. I struck a golden deal for them; the flip side of this achievement was that I became so famous for food management that I was hand-picked for food committee instead of the ones I would’ve loved to be a part of.

Just as I’m writing this article, I get a mail asking the food committee to meet. My feet just can’t get ready to move on. And I plod away wondering at my predicament…

I take refuge in the thought that God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He sure gives you what you need; and I be happy - as is my wont…

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Free Lunch – The Review

Ever tried reading a business page of a newspaper without a proper grounding in economics? Or reading an annual budget analysis in core jargons of economics? Felt dizzy at the downpour of jargons as comprehensible as Greek or Latin would be to a Metric fail from the outskirts of Delhi? How often you turned those pages to read politics, sports or entertainment? Did you always think that economics was the obverse side of entertainment?

Don’t give up just yet if you are starving to build a foundation in economics - sans the complexities - even though you haven’t formally studied the subject. Help is not far. “Free Lunch” is just the right sumptuous banquet to fill your belly to your satisfaction.

Introduction to economics had never been so simple and interesting. Those who couldn’t read more than a paragraph or two of core economic articles have read the whole book and released a burp of never-before-seen satisfaction after reading “Free Lunch”. Economics, suddenly, was no rocket science to them.

David Smith not only copied the second name from Adam Smith – the man who introduced the world to microeconomics - but also bettered him in teaching economics to novices in a lot simpler manner. He, very skillfully, cuts through the intimidating jargons that surround the modern economics. He simplifies the explanation to near layman language and provides very relatable instances to make the complexities look surmountable.

Why do house prices rise and stock markets fall? How does it affect us when interest rates go up, and why? What is a lesser evil – Inflation or Deflation? Does a budget deficit matter? Suddenly people, after reading Free Lunch, won’t be so indifferent to the economic jargons.

Just like any normal human being, I was always disappointed at the seeing so much poverty, hunger and sickness around me. Other than wondering at the divine plan for such inequalities, I would always search for an economic solution – to whatever extent my mortal knowledge of the subject would allow – towards resolving the problem. One solution I always thought, obviously out of my naiveté, was to distribute cash to all the poor so they could spend their way out of poverty and hunger and at the same time the society could trudge its way out of inequality and suffering.

I smugly marveled at my solution and wondered why nobody on the planet ever thought of such a solution to this problem. That was until I read Free Lunch.

David Smith, in this book, takes help of innumerable such hypothetical instances, then suggests some solution, which to a layman might look like a perfect antidote at first, and then systematically dissects the solution to show how the solution would lead to another set of problems.

Economics, as you learn through this book, is not about finding perfect solutions to grave economic problems; it is about finding a solution that would lead to least number of subsequent problems or more subsequent problems that might not warrant immediate attention.

Using one such hypothetical scenario described in the book and the incremental knowledge I gained from lapping it up, I could, all by myself, prove that my solution was not a solution at all.

An attempt at emulating Smith’s style of explaining is in order. Assume for a moment that there are only ten people in an economy. Two of them are very rich, five are middle class and three are beggars. Assume just one commodity – Rice, which is needed by all to survive. The demand for rice is generated only by the first two sections (rich and middle class) of the society as the beggars eat only what is leftover. The quantity of rice is constant and just enough to meet the demand.

Now what happens if we distribute enough cash among the beggars so they could buy their share of rice? The demand for rice suddenly jumps from seven to ten while its supply is still the same; just enough to meet the demand of seven. Now we don’t need to be a connoisseur of economics to realize that the excess demand would cause the price of rice to rise. But the price hike would be just enough to bring rice beyond the reach of beggars once again and to not dissuade the middle class from buying it. The great thing about the market is the way it brings this equilibrium. So, the sudden availability of cash would breed sudden inflation, which would leave the intended beneficiaries deprived of those very benefits.

While there might be flaws in my conclusion or the means to this end, I still have come a long way in interpreting the way market works; a far cry from where I was before I read this book.

All is not that rosy though. The author is British and an overwhelming majority of the historical examples he cites, to explain his theories, are on Britain’s economy. At times, the reader is left groping for the background of the events in question. For a book intended to be as globally relevant as this one is, “Free Lunch” makes an unfair assumption, though not always, that readers know what it is talking about. A slightly detailed background of some vintage events would do a world of good to beginners in their quest of conquering economics.

Except for this, ‘Free Lunch’ is a big leap towards making economics an enjoyable read. I realize that there is indeed no such thing as 'Free Lunch.'

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Life comes a full circle

This night is different from all my previous nights. Tonight I’m unable to sleep; I’m forced to ponder over my life.

It didn't take long for my mother to realize I was a different kid. Barring the physicality, I didn't have anything in common with the girls of my age. I was born a tomboy.

At an age when girls loved decorating their dolls and dressing them up, I took sadistic joy in crushing and dismantling them. While the other girls would raise their hands and ask parents to lift them while crossing a puddle in our street, I would slap any hand outstretched to help, and jump and cross it myself. That would give my ‘boyish’ ego, a smug boost.

But I wasn't different from the girls only; I was a rebellious kid even by boys' standards. I felt that every societal rule was there to curb my freedom. So I would break them at the drop of a hat. At times, I would even search for societal conventions to commit my faux pass.

I have always been a nightmare for my mom. My antics never allowed her to sleep peacefully, more so after she discovered the real me. I found archaic, every word of caution that came out of her mouth and every rule of discipline she laid for me. No amount of chastening would ever work on me. I was an undisputed apotheosis of a spoilt brat.

“Don’t sit that way”, “Behave yourself”, “Don’t stay out after 7”, “Learn to cook”, “Don’t wear shorts; wear frocks”, “Don’t play with the boys”, “Why can’t you play with other girls of the society?”, “Why can’t you behave like a normal girl?” and so on. My life was a constant questionnaire I preferred to tear apart with my actions.

The only time I behaved like a girl was when my mother was seriously ill. I took to doing the chores and taking her care, something totally unexpected of me. That was the only time I patiently listened to what she said.

“You’re a little girl, so gullible. You don’t realize that the outside world is very bad. You’ve to be very careful with the company you keep. The bad people will use you and throw you away. Why don’t you obey me my child?”

But soon after she recovered, I returned to my old ways.

Life went on, punctuated by altercations with my mom. I was tired of cold stares and loud rebukes that had become an almost daily phenomenon. So, after my schooling, I chose to go abroad for graduation. The move was more to move away from the prying eyes of my mom than for my love of foreign universities. The thought of freedom from having to justify my every action was too mouth-watering for me to feel the pain of separation from my spying but caring mom.

College life, away from home, was fun to say the least. I could mingle with friends of my choice without any botheration. Even here, my coterie had few girls. With my group, I was party to all kinds of outings; even to places considered to be guys’ bastions. I had gone crazy with my newfound freedom and enjoyed it to the hilt.

One such day, feeling groggy after the previous night’s drinking binge, I went to meet my friend. That day, he had not gone for lunch with the rest of our gang. We were not doing anything in particular: watching TV, gossiping and pulling each other’s legs. Suddenly I picked up a magazine with no particular intention of reading it. He snatched it immediately from my hands saying he wanted to read it first.

“Why should he read it first?” I thought.
“How could I let him snatch something from ‘my’ hands?” my alter-ego was too bruised to let him win the physical challenge, even though I was no match for him.

That gave me an instant kick and I snatched it back, for I saw, in his snatching of the magazine, a rule I had to break.

He jumped to grab the book but missed it. I ran and he followed. After a few missed chances he grabbed me from behind. He held my arms and turned me around with such power that I couldn’t do anything but face him. He held my elbows tightly; so I turned my hands with elbows as hinges and secured the magazine behind my back, holding it as tightly as I could. His hands, groping for the book, ran through my forearms, then wrists and reached the magazine. In the ensuing duel, I found myself kicking and pushing him, but in vain. In my efforts to relieve myself from his hold, I tripped and fell on the bed and he - not one to let go off the book - fell on top of me.

We were still fighting for the magazine. During the duel, our eyes met and I chuckled smugly at not letting him take it. Taking this as an insult, he did the unexpected. He planted his lips on mine and my hands that had, until so far, firmly held the magazine released it immediately. My eyes bulged out in shock at the sudden development. I tried to bring my hands out from under me to stop him, but our combined weight was too much for them. He won the book from me; but today that was not enough. He wanted to win me over.

Shock turned to anger at my inability to be in control. Anger turned to exasperation as I squirmed under him in frantic attempts to release myself. I somehow managed to release my hands and held them against his muscular chest to break the lip-lock. But the bitter-sweet sensation of the kiss had started playing its hormonal games on me by then. For the first time in my life, I didn’t mind being forcibly controlled and subdued. And I decided to go with the flow; force of my hands against his chest reduced and I found myself opening my lips in response to his. The inevitable happened.

I had made a life out of breaking the rules. However, in this quest, I didn’t realize that I made “breaking rules” the rule of my life. But someone, if not I, had to break this rule too for me. The self-imposed rule of my life was that I was to behave like a guy. Someone had to bring out the girl from the façade of a guy.

The next day, I found myself changed in a way that would make my mother proud. The sudden realization of being a woman was too much for me to be the same once again. To my surprise, I drastically reduced the frequency of meeting my ‘boy’ friends, except for him. The two of us had always been the best of buddies; that incident promoted him to a ‘special person’ in my life. I fell for him, head over heels. We met each other quite often and made out occasionally. Those were the best days of my life.

To my shock, I missed a cycle for the first time since puberty. But he, to my obvious consternation, refused to marry me and suggested instead to abort the baby; he then started ignoring me completely. I was staring at the prospect of becoming an unwed Indian mother - a social stigma of the lowest order. I felt that my fate had given me a very crude choice on the same rules that defined my life. Another rule of society was inviting me to break it and yet, I couldn’t find myself amused at the prospect of doing so.

But the recent realization of being a woman and the unexpected, yet pleasant, longing for motherhood made me take the choice of my life. I decided to become a single, unwed mother.

A few months down, I delivered an angelic baby girl. All my worries of societal stigma were drowned in her pleasant countenance and infectious innocence. I wanted to protect her from everything bad on earth. I told myself, ‘I will protect her from bad company, never let her be misguided by people like her father who could use her and throw her away.’

For the first time in my life, I could relate to my mother; I was thinking like her, and I suddenly realized, she wasn’t out of her mind in looking after me the way she did. For the first time I felt, she wasn’t entirely wrong.

My last few years have been wonderful with my little angel around me. She has been the centre of my universe ever since she was born. She has given meaning to my aimless existence.

Last night it rained heavily. This morning was so pleasant that I took my little angel out on a ramble. On the way, we reached a puddle left behind by the overnight showers. I crossed over in one big leap but my angel released my finger just when I was to cross. From the other side, I extended my hand.

She slapped my hand and said, “Mummy, I want to jump and cross it myself.”

No wonder, I can’t sleep tonight.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Like the fragrance of flowers, I waft.
Never to return, I had left.
Still clinging to time's breweries,
never to let go the hangover of memories.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I want to ...

NDTV selected this poem and published it on its site. Check out

I wanna be the fragrance of flower;
powerless, and yet full of power.
I wanna be the song of a bird;
singing, and yet never heard.
I wanna be the sigh of wind,
to help tired souls unwind.
I wanna be the hiss of a stream,
to push their hopes upstream.
I wanna be the smile of an infant
and the untiring spirit of an ant.
I wanna be a kid's mirth from its toy
and its parents' tears of joy.

I wanna be the crescent of the moon
and the warmth of sun on a cold noon. 
I wanna be a star in the skies,
and a soaring eagle as it flies.  I wanna unload my past
and truly live until I last.
I wanna live in the present
and make most of every moment.
I wanna get rid of my fear today.
To all, I wanna be near and dear today.
I wanna be the quenched thirst today
and the soothing shade of tree today.

I wanna stretch my limits today.
I wanna break the rules today.
I wanna be everything that is good today
and make the world a better place today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Godspeak on His Return

I visited the earth as Christ
and they formed Christianity.
I came down as Mohammad
and they became Muslims.
I incarnated as Zoroaster
and they followed me as Zoroastrians.
They then found excuses to divide
and smallest pretext to fight.

Every Divine intervention
is followed by a crude division,
wherein my doctrine of 'follow my path'
is mistaken for 'follow my religion.'

Ram, Krishna, Christ and Mohammad are the same,
separated in time and space.
But man can't fathom their oneness,
for he's bound by his limiting consciousness.

They really want me to return,
but only under their own names.
They want their messiah back
but only to play their own games.

The Christians want their Christ,
the Hindus hanker for Kalki.
The Jews wait for their messiah
and Muslims for Imam Mihdi.

Born in their faith, if I call myself Christ,
of blasphemy they'll blame.
If born a heathen and then enlighten
they'll call me a trickster and ridicule my name.

It all began with vibration
and will merge in perennial reverberation.
But even while seeking permanence in "The Absolute",
man yearns to glorify his 'ephemeral' religion.

Still, I will be back to restore
'The Divine Plan' upon every region
for I'm bound only by faith,
yet, I'm beyond every religion.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My Reservations against Reservations

Every now and then, the Indian government keeps pulling out the reservation rabbit from its magic bag. This time they're gunning for reservations in IITs and IIMs; that too for an appalling level of half the seats. This divisive politics –in the name of secularism and socialism- is getting too hot to handle now.

Unlike most of the writers criticizing the proposal, I'm going to deal with this in specifics rather than generics and cite instances out of my personal experiences to show how reservations are not only detrimental to the so-called general class but also to reserved categories – the very people in whose favour the whole policy apparently is. Not to mention, India is paying through its 'bleeding' nose for this.

I'm an engineer from one of the reputed National Institute of Technologies (NIT) of India. I belong to the general category of students for whom there is no reservation. I completed my engineering in the allotted four years and passed out in 2000. I know some of my batch-mates and seniors who're yet to clear all their papers. Almost all of these people are from our so-called 'reserved categories'. Every year during the university exams, the hotels surrounding the colleges fill up with all such candidates once again trying their luck at clearing the exams. I marvel at government's ingenuity in boosting small scale hotel industry at the cost of large scale industries that are crying foul over lack of skilled engineers. Consider this incident. One such 'privileged' senior, who had failed to become an engineer even after a decade of taking examinations, urged one of my friends to help him clear the exams, for he felt ashamed when his kids asked where he was going. The difference between the open and reserved category students is obvious from the very first exam. Since they lag behind in their grades, they end up developing an inferiority complex over their abilities. Over the years, this complex worsens to broaden the psychological divide between the castes. Scratch the surface and chances are you might find a caste-fundamentalist in the very person apparently benefited by the reservations. Not to mention the growing resentment among the general category students when they see some worthy individuals losing their seats to someone totally undeserving in a merit based selection. Our caste based reservations are thus dividing the nation psychologically, while they're not reaching anywhere close to the apparent aim of social upliftment. Although there are students from the reserved category who do well academically, they are more of an exception than a rule.

The reservations do not end with the education. These candidates have reservations for jobs and promotions as well. My dad used to work for the Railways. During his working days, he wasn't promoted only because one of the reserved category candidates had to be promoted to be his superior. Now this gentleman didn't have the prerequisites to man that post. He couldn't do a single important task without asking my father. We frequently used to get his calls from office and my dad guided him even when on leave. An inspection or audit would see him malingering through sick leaves. Already, corruption has eaten into our work ethics, reducing our efficiency way below acceptable limits. To add to our woes, our flawed and illogical policies are not letting honest officials make the most of remaining work opportunities.

If reservations are so justifiable, why don’t we have a fifty percent reservation in our cricket team and the film industry in the name of social upliftment? How many of us would then go to watch the matches we won’t win or movies with mediocre performances? A simple truth of market is that customers want their money's worth. When companies go to the IIMs or IITs offering high salaries, they demand nothing short of brilliant work in return. Can the reserved candidates, chosen inspite of less than desirable credentials, do the needful? And when the companies find that they're not getting their money's worth, wouldn’t they stop visiting the brands we're so proud of?

My sincere question to all those politicians - where are we taking our nation with all these? It has taken years to build the brands that IITs and IIMs are. They demand high standards. How could we enforce reservations that dilute these very standards and favour mediocrity over meritocracy? Our policies make economic backwardness look wholly irrelevant while that should be the only criterion for reservations - if at all. We should rather ensure that everyone gets equal opportunity. A deserving candidate, irrespective of caste, should not remain deprived of higher studies for lack of funds. A specific number of seats should be reserved for such candidates.

It is only human not to value things you get for free. When people realize that they get the best without much hard work, they’d, but naturally, be inclined to relax. And only a fine line separates relaxation from laxity. Standards of performance are lowered and promotions reserved for them inspite of mediocre performance; who wouldn’t relax under such a luxury? The sad thing about the whole policy is that in the guise of reservations we’re inviting the socially backward classes to become lackadaisical and non-performing. Is it really going to benefit them or our nation in the long run? The answer is anybody’s guess.

I don’t hold anything personally against anyone from these reserved categories. Some of my very good friends are from these castes and I try my best to help them in whatever way I can. But when such policies on the whole negate our nation’s progress, I’m forced to speak up.

While Cadbury's Dairy-Milk might do great business when a not-so-good-at-studies 'Pappu' passes the exam after many trials and tribulations, IIMs and IITs might run out of business very soon, forcing brand India to nosedive, if we allow such Pappus to proliferate.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Irony of Love

We seek love in her enchanting smile;
in the process, ourselves we beguile.
We seek love in his fingers running through our tresses,
and miss out on enjoying our soul's caresses.

We find life incomplete without him,
but never grope for completeness within.
We feel life is nothing, if not for her;
and seek our happiness in another.

Caught in the shackles of possessive vanity,
lovers link joy to their mate’s proximity.
Their sorrow, they feel, they can beat,
only when the twain shall meet.

We give our lovers the key to our passions,
and live our lives under self-imposed illusions
that they've the power to affect our emotions
and, for better or for worse, control our reactions.

Man has a lot to learn from a child,
the fount of mirth, so pleasant and mild.
Its joy is unconditional and within;
if not a toy, sand is a play-thing.

For a kid’s existence is rooted in the present,
he is a joy so pure that is born to last.
We limit ourselves in conditions of possession
and are bound by the future, burdened by the past.

Free mind of a child breaks its aviary.
Man is but a slave to idiosyncrasy.
He pulls love from unbound divinity
and restrains it in parochial conditionality.

When we fathom that happiness is our slave,
we will not in ‘normal’ ways behave.
Our love will flow from us forever,
whether our love is with us or another.

Mirth is the essence of existence.
This joy is the divine fount of love.
Man, in his quest, mortalized it
and bore what I call the irony of love.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When Cricket lost to Patriotism

The ongoing India Pakistan cricket series was touted to be the mother of all rivalries. The media spared no stone unturned in cashing in on the hype. The Indian and Pakistani scribes went gung-ho glorifying their respective team's credentials and analyzing the rival team's weaknesses. They went overboard putting the tournament at the top of cricket's pyramid while relegating the Ashes to a second rate competition. Reviews, previews, talk-shows and in-depth analysis gave some long-forgotten-heroes and some not-so-successful cricketers a second chance to recognition. On the ground, the two teams are arch-rivals; outside of it, the two nations are sworn enemies. Cricket thus becomes a virtual war as bats and balls replace F-16s and Sukhois.

A much-abused cliché calls cricket a second religion in the subcontinent, a religion very unkind to losers. History is a proof that the losers in India Pakistan matches pay heavily. At times players' careers were ended; they felt unsafe returning to their own countries and hometowns after their teams lost. A win in these matches could put you on the peak of fame and adulation while a loss would take you to the depth of lifelong ignominy. Ask Chetan Sharma and Javed Miandad to describe what it means to be on either side. The sword of job-loss swings tantalizingly close on top of everyone - from the pitch curator to the coach. The mentality is thus to be safe than sorry. So the captain would rather be safe and not lose than go for the kill and invite public wrath if the plan fails.

A look at the statistics reveals how brazenly biased the wickets were in favour of the batsmen in the first two tests. 1089 runs were scored for the loss of only 8 wickets – a whopping 136 runs per wicket – an ignominious world record. In the second test both the captains delayed their declarations until they made sure that the other team can't even hope to win, an ample evidence of their defensive attitudes. Batsmen broke world records; captains saved their resumes from smudges of defeat, but cricket was the loser. Their focus is how not to lose and not how to win.

Compare and contrast this to the recently concluded Ashes series. England beat Australia after 18 years; nail biting test match finishes brought a lot of lost fans back to cricket. South Africa's Captain Graeme Smith surprised Australia by his sudden declaration and brought the dead test and the lost series to life. Can this be expected from either of India-Pakistan captains? Not until we give them the freedom to lose following a daring gamble to win.

A deeper look at the evolution of sports would help separate sports from its misguided connection with patriotism. The evolution of sports lies in man’s need for entertainment. All the sports started of as simple fun acts and evolved into community events before businessmen saw opportunities and expanded the scope of these sports. As the earning potential through sports grew along with the fame factor, more and more sports personalities emerged. But playing a sport is still a personal thing. A player is happier if his team wins because of his pivotal contribution than when his performance is forgettable in his team’s win. The sport is his means of livelihood no less than our work is for us. And we don’t go around doing our daily job with a streak of patriotism running in our veins right? Nor do we always succeed in doing our job. And when we fail, we don’t fear a public backlash. So why should a cricketer’s inability to do his job invite crowd demonstrations and violence against him?

What happens when a simple act of playing a game is wrongly associated with patriotism? Losing a match makes you a traitor who deserves to be lynched. Let cricket between the arch-rivals be played like a sport. Cricket was meant to entertain; so let us allow our cricketers to be players and refrain from making gladiators out of them. Only then we’ll see test matches between these two nations yielding results and drawing crowd due to their result producing ability and not just the hype. Let us not dump our brand of patriotism on their shoulders. Let us give them the freedom to win or lose. For as Walter Reuther once told, “If you’re not big enough to lose, you’re not big enough to win.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An Ode to Failure

In success, others discover me.
In failure, I discover myself.

I party in success.
I introspect in failure.

When I succeed, I discover my limits.
When I fail, I stretch my limits.

I relax when I succeed.
I toil when I fail.

Success makes me happier.
Failure makes me tougher.

With success, I cross a milestone.
With failure, I build a stepping stone.

Success is sweet, when I simply succeed.
Success is sweeter, when I fail and succeed.

Success tests my boundaries of happiness.
Failure tests my limits of resilience.

I forget God in success.
I remember God in failure.

My success is my failure if it goes to my head.
My failure is my success if I learn from it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year Bash in Dubai

It took me five shirts, ten pants and quite a few hairstyles to be satisfied with how I looked that night. The sigh of chilling breeze at 10 pm unnerved us when we friends left for our New Year party at a hall close to the World Trade Center in Dubai. That night all roads led to Dubai, an oasis of forward and broad minded atmosphere in the desert of conservative Gulf countries. Murphy’s Law was working at its best then; the normally ubiquitous Dubai taxi was suddenly the rarest thing on earth. We had to go far and there was no vacant taxi in sight. After a long anxious wait and some forced but sincere prayers, we found two unoccupied taxis and latched onto them as a hungry predator would on its prey.

We reached the discotheque soon thereafter but not before 11 pm. The make-shift hall was turned into a disco for the musical extravaganza on the New Year eve. Some of the biggest DJs of India namely Aqeel, Suketu, Nasha and others were invited to enthrall the crowd and usher in the year 2006. Our pulse went up as we reached closer to the entrance of the hall and heard the faint foot tapping remix music through the well guarded walls of the hall. The crowd gathered outside the entrance could compete with the best in the fashion world. My heart skipped a few beats as I saw quite a few exquisitely beautiful girls dressed to kill. One of the best dressed girls we saw outside was a fair girl in complete black. She wore a seductively low-waist skirt, a backless top that was tantalizingly low even from the front – all to our ‘lusty’ delight. This only got better as we went inside the main entrance.

We had started dancing even before we entered the hall. We just couldn’t stop the dance bug from taking over. Hard and soft drinks flowed in the air. People were guzzling them while dancing with their partners and making the most of the moment. The disco lights, the laser beams and the sound system worked in tandem to mesmerize us. In between our dancing, we went around to survey the crowd (read gals). And what we saw simply left us dazed. Gurrrlzz were dressed in their glamourous best. I’d never seen so many scantily clad ladies under one roof, grooving to the dance beats. Girls and guys here have an amazing dressing sense and they carry it all off quite well. Guys shined in ‘Eminem’isque trousers and T-shirts combinations and dance steps that matched their sartorial skills. Girls wearing Capri pants, camisoles, tank tops and minis with competitive hemlines were gyrating sensuously to the beat of the music. One girl in particular had forced everyone dancing around her to stop and simply watch her in awe. She started dancing very slowly and yet suggestively. And by the time she hit the peak, she had a lot of us gasping for breath. She danced like a professional stripper gyrating on the pole. She left us as awestruck and wanting for more as a stripper would. And she did that without taking off a single piece of clothing from her curvaceous body. Anyway, there weren’t many of those to be removed.

I took a break from dancing to catch my breath and observe the whole crowd from a distance in the intermittent darkness. As it often happens with me, I started thinking about the whole event that was unfolding in front of my eyes and a thought crossed my mind. I was observing the big screen showing DJ Suketu totally engrossed in music, changing his CDs and enthralling the crowd, the crowd that was lapping it all up. The crowd was his slave that night. I started wondering what it takes to reach a stage where people would be ready to pay even a penny to come and watch what you do. The DJs of the night had reached a stage that probably none other in the crowd did. And that is why, we were the crowd and they ruled the crowd. Think about any famous personality in the world of sports, music or movies and you’ll realize that the ones we pay for have really paid with their lives to reach there. Success and fame doesn’t come easy. You’ve to pay with your life through single minded devotion before you command a crowd that pays to see you perform; a wonderful thought to begin the New Year with and to follow if one wants to rise above the crowd.

The New Year had arrived long before and we were still dancing. Exhaustion was setting in and we could see more people on the sidelines now grooving slowly with their dancing partners. They hugged and danced in loving embrace, mumbling sweet nothings in each other’s ears, cuddling and kissing in the winking lights, looking into the partner’s eyes with kinky and lovelorn smile on their faces. Call it the effect of drinking binge or whatever, the temperatures were rising as the couples slowly forgot they were in public. Mild and short kisses turned into prolonged ones and progressed to deep smooching. These loving couples turned to love-making couples and promoted us from mere observers to voyeurs.

Our New Year party began with excitement, only to end up with s-excitement. We all came out satisfied and yet exasperated; for we got more than what we had bargained for and yet we were disgusted at being single.

This article is a tribute to the indefatigable spirit of ‘stag’hood. For had we not been there as stags, we would never have surveyed the crowd to find the best of the lot. And being a stag is like being in an eternal state of hope; hope that we will someday have someone for us. And we, the stags, keep trying – irrespective of umpteen setbacks – to reach to the hearts of that special lady who we envisage dancing with us. It is this hope that keeps us afloat; the hope that we will someday cross over to set our feet on the grass that is on the other side of the fence.

Three cheers to the spirit of the stags wherein you’re for all and all are for you. How close you’re to divinity when you’re for all than when you’re for only one and that only one is for you! ;-)