About the Blog

This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

October 30, 2008

Janmabhoomi Vs Karmabhoomi

We live in embattled times, our cities have not only become melting pot of various cultures but battlegrounds drawn on linguistic & ethnic identities. The current happenings in Mumbai notwithstanding, modern India is on the move and the stress points are manifesting at its fissure points, our large cosmopolitan cities. Add to this the desperate Rajneetis of marginal politicians seeking vain attempts to draw political mileages and build vote banks and you have the fire ignited. 

Rapid Urbanization is drawing people from all sides and walks of life and my city Bangalore (aka Bengaluru ) which has been my home for the past 14 years is a perfect metamorphosis of this kind of transformation in Indian cities. Here I live without any fear of recrimination or any other baggage as I belong to the state & identify with its ethic culture. In a sense I live free of fear or favour. 

But I cannot say the same of a lot of my friends & acquaintances from outside the state who form ¾ of the city population. Though there is apparent calm and tranquility on the surface, most of these people live in mortal fear of recrimination as it happened in the case of the Cauvery water crisis or during Dr.Rajkumar (a noted Kannada personality & Film thespian ) death. 

I wonder what went through the mind of my neighbor, from chennai, when he had big pictures of Dr.Raj pasted on his front and rear glass of his car during a few days after his death. Minor trouble did break out during his funeral procession (allegedly engineered by a big time local politician) but thankfully it did not take any linguistic colour.

My thoughts are drawn to the hackney raised by KRV (Karnataka Rakshana Vedike) and that of MNS (Maharashtra Navanirman Sena) and patterns that follow a common diabolical agenda to attain political puberty and arrive on the electoral stage. Both of them appeal to the so called asmita or pride drawn on the rich culture and heritage of their respective linguistic domains. Both entities have conveniently found out that it’s not the upwardly mobile or the rich highly educated and cosmopolitan people of their community that find an immediate audience but the large mass of poor , under educated and marginal segments who wage a daily fight for their existence. 

And what better platform to voice this in the lower rungs of Railway recruitment Jobs! Railways after all is the mother of all recruiters in this country (read largest Govt recruiter). Both entities also took on popular film superstars & made them bow to their diktats. Both are fringe parties without any political base, KRV does not have even a single representative in the state assembly, and their agenda and manifesto is unique in the sense that it is not pursued by any of the main stream political parties. This gives them a virgin political bandwidth to drum up mass emotions on linguistic chauvinism. Both states incidentally does not have a regional party like Telugu Desam or DMK/AIADMK to root this kind of identity.

In Mumbai where certain professions are dominated by UP/Bihari’s like the Taxiwallas, chaatwallas or Halwaies , Bangalore exhibits similar patterns. Your neighborhood Ironman, Sweeper , domestic helper or office support staff could most probably be a Tamilian so as the likelihood of your neighborhood Bakery, Tea stall or Provision store wallah being a Malayali. I am drawing this on my common observation and is not meant to demean in any sense. 

In fact I admire and respect their sheer tenacity and hard work and find them glowing examples in entrepreneurism. But try explaining this to the local farmer from Mandya, a local who did not know any language except Kannada and came to work as a watchman in my apartment but was unceremoniously kicked out because he dint know Hindi and  could not converse with most of the people in the apartment! 

This is the kind of grist that keep the mills of KRV & MNS working overtime

October 14, 2008

The ICICI Conundrum

ICICI Bank has been active in public memory of late, be it the SMS’es,the advertisements or plain News stories. And all of it seems to be for the wrong reasons! The stock market crisis has been bad and particularly worse for the bank shareholders like me. The stock among select few got particularly hammered but of all the 5000 or so listed Cos, but ICICI has been a singular standout crying hoarse about a certain cartel of brokers and certain vested interests working overtime to pull the stock down.

This is not the first time the Bank has had this kind of problem, a few years ago it reported a ‘run on’ deposits in certain western parts of India due to similar malicious rumors. Is there anything about trading communities & business group activities that can be so detrimental to a particular Company. What could be the motivating factors?

ICICI has been a spectacular story in the Banking & Financial services space marked by a kind of aggression that you normally associate with few family run Indian Cos. Its transformation from a Corporate lending entity to a retail powerhouse has been swift and efficient driven largely by the vision and foresight of its enigmatic leader K.V.Kamath (KVK).

Actually it was a great place to work and learn too as I found out in my 5+ year stint between 1999-2005. What particularly stuck out in my memory was the incredible quality and tenacity of the top management whom I witnessed from close quarters. You got personalized response letters from the MD & ED on sending marriage invitation, you could regularly drive around the town with the Business Head (V. Vaidyanathan aka Vaidy,now country head) sitting beside you and discussing mundane business or directly correspond with them on crucial official matters .

I first interacted with KVK during a branch opening in Manipal sometime in 1999 where he spoke about brand building very passionately. And he was very consistent at that because he would pull down faulty glow-signs while traveling & chide senior officials in meetings when they made power point presentation with the wrong fonts.

Vaidy on the other hand was incredibly unassuming and approachable. One of his ex-colleague from a XIMB , a friend of mine had to tell me that he was not particularly an academic standout but had a certain X factor. In my interactions I could figure out that he had loads of work stamina just like his 40km marathons but more importantly had a good way of dealing with people. No wonder he zoomed through the progression curve & made it to the top without an IIM tag.

Another luminary was Chanda Kochhar who ushered certain kind of sensitivity to client engagements. When I was handling Infosys account, she particularly kept a tab on developments and made regular personal visits with me in tow to client.

However the scorching growth had its pitfalls . Overzealous collection agents messing up with customers or clients complaining of overselling (loans & cards earlier and as in the derivatives imbroglio later) were early indications. So were the ubiquitous ‘tele marketing calls’ that became synonymous with ICICI where every square customer in the retail market was systematically bombarded with carpet calls.

The branches too started getting progressively crowded and the services tended to be impersonal. Credit card complaints among other loan products started blipping on RBI radar frequently. Even the important securitization law had the ICICI stamp when it took Mardia chemicals to court and won.

In the meantime the crown prince-in-waiting Nachiket Mor gave it all up for non profit socially inclusion initiative role in IFMR. The Bank amidst all this has been undertaking a media blitz to project a more responsible and sensitive image and allaying unfounded fears through a sustained media campaign.

So a lot is happening on the ICICI saga and this may not be last you will hear on that front.

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