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 Рto whatever extent my mortal knowledge of the subject would allow Рtowards resolving the problem. One solution I always thought, obviously out of my naivet̩, 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.'