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

December 26, 2009

Bringing a Insurance Company to its knees; the consumer court way

From CF
The consumer may be termed as the king by lip-servicing companies but its our Consumer courts that are really the custodians of consumer rights. Consumer rights wouldn’t have evolved much nor errant companies bought to book quickly hadn’t consumer courts been so active on this front. They are the silent sentinels & among the unsung heroes of our system, a system that has to be credited for providing faster justice on issues touching the life of normal citizens. I am saying this borne out of my experience recently when I had to haul Royal Sundaram (a Health Insurance Co) to the Consumer dispute redressal forum and make them pay up for my Insurance claim which they had declined on flimsy grounds (Case # 1122/2009 filed before the Hon 2 Additional district consumer dispute redressal forum, Bangalore urban district)

In my case it was the oft repeated instance when the claim of insurance made by the insured, the insurance company manipulates that your claim is in violation of the insurance policy or your claim is not maintainable as it comes within the purview of Exclusion clause of the policy. Royal Sundaram went on a misadventure and made an effort to repudiate my claim due to misinterpretation of its ambiguous and vague Terms & Conditions embedded in the insurance policy. That they ended up settling my claims with a penalty as mandated by the Consumer forum with severe indictment was a lesson that could detest them in future.

While dismissing the plea made by Royal Sundaram , the Hon consumer court observed “The opposite party could have fairly & rightly accepted the claim and paid the amount soon after receipt of the claim from the complainant. A very legal and genuine claim of the complainant has been unnecessarily repudiated by the opposite party. The opposite party should change its attitude towards the customers”.

Mine may have been one of the 40,000 cases that were filed in these forums up to 2009 but with 35 state consumer disputes redressal commissions and 610 district consumer forums in the country, am sure every one of it is being heard diligently and being disposed off in the shortest possible time. A consumer only has to have the belief in the system and the necessary perseverance. The Insurance company hired a lawyer to fight the case & I pleaded on my own without one; it took about 7 months and about 5 hearings for settlement .

Wishing all my readers a Happy & Prosperous New Year!

December 20, 2009

Environment protection, Western Ghats and ecological rubberband < 1.5 degrees elastic

Environment protection, Western Ghats and Ecological threshold (rubber band) form three Venn diagram rings that woefully overlap very little. The Copenhagen summit that concluded recently gives little hope on that front, it came out with an agenda to save its face rather than that of the planet. Its final text or draft resolution, as it stands today appears to be more misleading than convincing , every nation wanted to protect its turf and emerge from the summit atleast with status quo if not gains on its political and economic agenda. The temperature cap commitments vacillated between 2.5 and 1.5 degree and as usual there was talk of back room maneuvering and the never ending chasm between developed & developing nations. But then nothing better was expected, the only positive coming out of it was the attention span, albeit a brief one that it brought to the pressing problem.

Will Copenhagen summit arrest the global rise in temperature or has the problem gotten out of hand already? Will Environment protection take a back seat in Western Ghats? Some of the answers ironically lay in the interaction I had with a senior forest official this week . Who better to give a testament on the issue than an official concerned with preservation, conservation and management of the green cover (of whatever little is left of it) that is so vital in absorbing the CO2 and arrest the temperature rise?

The DFO (District Forest Officer) in question is in charge of Environment protection in the southern parts of the Western ghats in south coastal Karnataka which in a rare instance provides as much as 79% coverage to the district area and is ecological hotspot. This official worked extensively in the area , first as a student undertaking field studies and later as an official doing field surveys and collecting data on forest management. A well respected  and upright officer he spoke with conviction tinged with despondency. The transcripts of my interaction with him in his office went as follows

Me: the forest cover is substantial in this area

Forest Official: On record it is 79.2%

Me: (Laugh) on records sir?

Forest Official: I have to admit that actually...(pause)... a lot of encroachments are there... a lot of development projects are eating away the forest area......almost 99% of the schools in this area are in forest area. Environment protection has become a big challenge in western ghats because there are human vested interests at play here

Me: But sir coverage of more than 75% is quite substantial

Forest Official: there are different ways of looking at forests, the way forest officer looks is totally different from the way others look at it. The mere existence of trees is not a forest unless the ecological processes are taking place in it. We call something called fragmentation happening, there’s a canopy like this (joins the palm tip of his two hands to make an inverted V). We are fragmenting it (separates the palms to leave a gap between them), its only a matter of time before the forests are getting destroyed ...it may take 100, 200 or 300 years ...unfortunately the span in which we are working is only short, we wont be able to know the changes in a span of 17-18 years but people here know. Some of the elders around here have a different tale to tell of the surroundings here 50 -60 years ago and that points to a drastic change in the ecology. If environment protection was a security alert, it would be at level 6 here now

Me: hmm....I see

Forest Official: the moment you are opening this canopy then there is a road coming up in the forest area splitting it into 2 areas....this brings in infiltration and more importantly stops the exchange of green between these two patches of forest. So now all these has stopped (ecological process) ....there is no green exchange, there is no exchange of animals and the temperature that was usually 16-18 degree centigrade under the canopy has gone upto 22-23 with this opening. And whatever rain is falling is also draining away rapidly through this encroachment. So the changes are taking are at a small level but over a period of time if you club everything you get the picture. All these talk of environmental protection is at a superficial level, Western Ghats is changing and expert committee are helping little to arrest this.

Me: So you are saying that the fragmenting is destroying the forest

Forest Official: the networking of roads making fragments of the forest cuts short their life... the longevity of that forest patch is shorter than that of the forest that is completely covered. So you end up having an isolated part of the forest where Plants & Animal species find difficult to migrate. For them also there is a limit of migration....for example the giant squirrel can jump 10 or 20 feet but it cannot jump 60-100 feet , the inroads in Western ghats we are making creates a gap of something like 100 to 200 feet . so their population gets isolated in different pockets, there is no interaction between these two population and with inbreeding their population disappears over a period of time. And along with them we don’t know how many other species both plant and; animals are disappearing, its only a matter of time.

Me: Very interesting perspective sir....

Forest Official: But there are no takers for it, we find it very difficult to convince people and we are waging a losing battle. Crores of rupees come and; they think it is 'development'...for example more than 5% of forest area is acacia plantation, only for the benefits of local population but that is not the forest we consider as....deduct all things like that and we are left with nothing. Then there is this rapid soil erosion where tonnes of top soil with vital nutrients is getting eroded fast. I have seen some isolated waterfalls deep in the western Ghats during mansoon....they are supposed to be clean water but they are getting muddy since tonnes of soil is getting eroded.

Me: So you are saying there is a continuous drain of forest resources

Forest Official: Its a matter of time as I told you , the system is like you know....a rubberband you are pulling, pulling, and pulling and all of a sudden you may just break it. But till then you feel its fine and you really don’t know when its going to break. So the 79 percent I told you is not ecologically 79 percent in Western Ghats

I hope the Copenhagen leaders are tuned into this fact, it may not be even 1.5 degree elastic as some would like to believe. As far as Western Ghats and its environment protection is concerned, it remains to be seen what happens with the Kasturirangan report implementation

December 12, 2009

The Corporate Soothsayer

Circa 1999, Venue: Conference room Raheja Towers Bangalore, KV Kamath is holding fort with his bunch of managers (all blue blooded mgt whizkids adept at crunching numbers with 7 to 10 zeros in tow) all of them waiting intently for their Rōshi to lay the future plan for them in corporate lending (ICICI was a Institutional lending behemoth then) . Little did they realize that they were in for a shock when KVK announced converting ICICI into a retail lending powerhouse and a universal Bank.He told them that the future was in retail banking. So go goes the story as told to me by one of my friend who is in a senior position in Infy now. These guys then thought that KVK had lost his bearings to announce something that radically different. But then nobody saw into the future like KVK did, and ICICI chairman Vaghul had specially plucked him back from ADB back into ICICI fold for this specific purpose: to charter new growth avenues for the Company.

KVK had smartly read the macroeconomic numbers then, which he revealed in his latest interview “The country is now at another tipping point” in Mint recently .What did KVK see in 1999 which made him big bet on retail lending? He aimed at doubling the balance sheet strength every 3rd year or sooner then. In the interview he says “ You may remember that the entire basis for refocusing the bank on retail lending in 1999-2000 was that India’s per capita income had crossed $500, a tipping point for aspirations & consumption”. Smart reading but implementing the plan was a different ball game altogether and he achieved that by handpicking a few key men/women to the crucial posts in the bank.

Between 1999 & 2005 ICICI increased its Asset portfolio from roughly INR 22000 crores to 80000 crores, the company’s market capitalization grew by more than 100 % and in the process beat established players like HDFC on the Home Loan turf, Citibank on Cards and few other to the post. The scorching growth placed it next only to SBI Bank in overall balance sheet size & strength in the Banking sector, no mean feat for a 6 year old bank toddler operating with 60+ year old peers in the Industry.

The interesting part of the article is that he believes another tipping point is due now. And the trigger being the per capita Income now falling in the $1,000-2,000 range. Looks like good news on the ‘Infrastructure’ front , & I bet KVK is aiming at another bulls eye.

(Pic courtesy Mint)

December 6, 2009

UID: Cart before the Horse?

Nandan Nilekani would score high on media & PR ratings going by the coverage he and his UID project is getting in the print & electronic media nowadays. And there he is, making all the right noises with his erudite communication skills. But one thing begs my Question. No doubt UID is something fantastic in conception and its intended benefits but are we putting the proverbial Cart before the Horse ?

Unique identity project or UID, is expected to give a ‘unique number’ to all citizens that will be unduplicated and distinct and the state thereafter is expected to use it for effective governance. Like the advt of Idea cellular, where every cell phone user gets identified with his cell number, UID will dissipate caste, religion & linguistic identities of the state subjects. Once completed it is expected to ensure things like tracking rural employment generation & wages, tracking of vaccinations, school entry, age at marriage, migration etc. So far so good but before I jump into this ‘India will shine’ bandwagon let me don this skeptic hat for a moment and examine some issues.

 UID is certainly not some magic wand or at worst a surgical scissor that Sanjay Gandhi conceived to snip the population control problem in the 70s. This is an IT project of immensely complex scale that will involve huge servers, complex algorithms and miles of Bandwidth . All this presupposes that the govt machinery will be adequately IT savvy to not only understand all the jargons but effectively use it. But will they? Go to any Govt office and a common site is still the bulky files on large tables with inward & outward trays. The typical ‘Babu’ and his Babudom still relies on everything that is physical and the odd computer in the office would not only look outdated but gathered enough dust layers to confirm its usage. I doubt if the penetration of PCs, let alone connectivity would be more than 10% in Govt offices.

The typical government machinery by its very DNA is very rigid, hierarchical and staid in its response mechanism. UID on the other hand is expected to run on this system presupposing that there will be a high level of coordination between various departments, access to each other databases and free flowing information between the Babus and their ministries. If it were the elephant of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, i wouldn’t have doubted its agility but this is still the wild untamed giant of the jungle which Veerappa Moily is trying to tame with his ‘Administrative Reforms Bill ' that is still in the anvil.

So where does all this leads to? The UID may take off with the tail wind created by Nilekani’s proven managerial competencies but like the rudderless plane would soon crash land in the vast graveyard of eGovernance if not addressed structurally.

November 30, 2009

Omnipotent Maruti

Around the same period last year (10 Dec08 to be precise) I was in Bhopal, capital city of Madhya Pradesh (MP) on a Business related visit and as the plane made its early morning landing , the contours of this scenic & remarkably clean city came into view . And during the long drive from the Airport to the city I chanced my sight upon a small yet magnificent temple of Hanuman adjacent to the Bada Talaab, a vast lake dotting the city. Before I could make up my mind to stopby & pay obeisance, the cabdriver had sped off. I was disappointed but later in the day, and by strange coincidence, I encountered another 2-3 Hanuman temples in the city. A pleasant surprise was in store for me later that evening when I learnt that it was the auspicious day of ‘Hanuman Jayanthi’. And today is one such auspicious day, Hanumantha Vrata is observed during Margashirsh month in Karnataka.

It is said that after Gayatri mantra , the Hanuman chalisa is perhaps the most recited verses in Hindu homes. Also it is generally believed that there are more Hanuman & Shiva (and Hanuman is considered an incarnation of shiva) temples in the country than any other deity. Popularly known as Sankat Mochan, he has the power to counter the negative influence of Shani (Saturn) & other planetary influences. His chalisa recited 108 times has the power to keep evil at Bay. So no wonder he has a long list of admirers, apart from Obama, celebrities like Amitabh Bachahhan , Lalu Yadav, Bappi Lahari etc are his admirers & followers.

Like his deeds he stands tall in many places in India, his statue at Pusa road Delhi is 108 ft, am sure the one on Bangalore-Tumkur road is nearly as big. There’s a famous temple called Gaali-Anjaneya Gudi in Bangalore, one of the oldest in this part of the country dating back to 1425 AD. Then there is Prasanna Veeranjaneya temple in Mahalaxmipura, one of the frequently visited temples by Hanuman devotees. It has a 22-foot-tall Hanuman statue standing atop a hillock. However my favourite is the Ragigudda, Sri Prasanna Anjaneya Temple in the religious, social and cultural hub of Bangalore, Jayanagar.

Hanuman has an interesting connection with my aradhya Guru ‘Sri Raghavendra Swami’, a 16th century saint. In appreciation of his penance for 12 long years in a cave near Panchamukhi, located on the south bank of river Tungabhadra near Mantralaya, Lord Anjaneya (panchamukhi pranadevaru) is said to have appeared before him in a unique way amalgamating within him the avataras of "varaha, garuda, anjaneya, narasimha and hayagreeva"

Hanuman is one God who has been rediscovered in modern times, he is cool, high on emotional quotient & stands for universal timeless values and is sported everywhere including popular animation films & Playstation games and my son just like me is a big fan & devotee of him. Jai Hanuman!

November 25, 2009

The politics of hyphenation

Continuing with Sachin from my previous article, it is rather sad to see him drawn into an unforeseen controversy. I am referring to his comment that Mumbai belonged to all Indians that drew ire & adverse reaction from Balasaheb Thackeray & Shiv sena. I am a bit surprised that the same Shivsena or the MNS did not react when Sachin inaugurated/Flagged off the local Belgaum Team in the Karnataka premier league , a local edition of T20 cricket in Bangalore. Belgaum is the bone of contention between the 2 states and the Marathi & Kannada torch bearers are quite active on this issue.

Maybe Balasaheb read too much into the nomenclature, otherwise a ‘Maha’rashtra would never have come before the Rashtra. To be fair to Sachin , his comment of ‘all Indians’ included Maharashtrian’s too. Why take offense when the ‘Marathi Manoos’ is also included? The way Balasaheb reacted, it gave a sense that he wanted to hyphenate the interest of the state & its local interests from that of the nation. The nature of the reaction and its ‘Us-Them’ undertone is what raised the hackles of many people who now believe will undermine the unity & federal character of this country.

The ‘aamchi’ feeling defined by a linguistic & cultural affinity in a large diverse country is normal but whether it is getting hijacked by a narrow political agenda is debatable. It depends on which angle you look at it & how affected you are or simply put how much you stand to gain by exploiting it. To put this thought in perspective I will relate to an issue that I had to contend with recently. Talking to members of what I call ‘ a dysfunctional’ association , a ragtag motley group of sneery members whose style of functioning clearly reflects on the condition of the building I live in, one of the issues I pointed out was their insistence on having a ‘Hindi’ speaking security guard at the Apartment. So much so that a Kannada speaking guy (local) was summarily chucked out of the job for his lack of Hindi knowledge. To cover it up, these members came up with another excuse which is a different matter altogether. But the moot point is that such an issue would no doubt have raised the heckles of a segment of local population (unemployed youth ) who could only perceive it as an affront for such kind of injustice perpetrated by ‘outsiders’. Who better to nurse such a grudge than politicians who would not stop highlighting the fact that they were slighted by the opportunities robbed from them by people outside the state. But who is to blame? The Politicians or the Association members (as in this case). Both displayed the parochial mindset, didn’t they?

November 18, 2009

Tendlya: a 20 gun salute

Several thousand laurels & million accolades must have already been attributed to the little maestro (Sachin Tendulkar) by now, yet I am tempted to give my version. Particularly so since I belonged to a generation which had the good fortune of watching modern cricket (post Kerry packer) on TV as early as 1984-85 and being on a vantage point to witness what I describe as two different generation of cricketers. And Sachin in my opinion was the defining epoch  like AD (Anno Domini as used in the Julian and Gregorian calendars) in the Indian cricketing History because he changed the way Indians approached the game .

Going back to the period (1985- 89) India had the likes of K Srikanth and Kapil Dev who made us watch the game in excitement. They were very effervescent cricketing talent who either fired like a Kalashnikov or went dud like a Diwali cracker. Srikant, I remember in the Champions Trophy in Australia (1985) and the Sharjah matches thereafter; would go on a leather hunt like some drunken hunter going bonkers in the forest. He would have us on the edge of the seat as he lived similarly at the crease. He had the aggression , maybe some technique but surely no temperament to stay at the crease. Kapil would bring a similar excitement whenever he came to bat lower down the order. The power he generated from his shots and the disdain with which he treated all length balls was a treat to watch. But again, to see him fire was not frequent enough. Like a runaway Jat-train he had the tendency to derail (throw away his wicket to rash shots- best exemplified by his Semifinal world cup innings against England in Mumbai in 1989). Nonetheless, these two superb players made us love the game for this kind of aggression they brought to the game.

Watching Tendulkar, 1989 & thereafter brought this kind of excitement. The difference was that here was a player packaged beautifully in all the 3 compartments of the game; Aggression, Temperament &Technique that was somewhat missing in the earlier era. He would slaughter the bowlers but with a watertight technique of footwork, balance and timing he always assured us of being on top of his opponent. There was excitement but no fear of losing him the battle with the bowler. Maybe the mountain of runs he accumulated is testament to that. In the process he ushered in a kind of confidence & measured aggression in the Indian team that I felt was missing before him.

I found the duel between Akram & Sachin in Sharjah particularly interesting. The beauty of their contest was the ‘natural flow’ with which these 2 greats played the game on either sides of the crease. A fired up Akram would steam-in & bowl in a smooth free flowing rollover action. He had the pace, swing and the guile in his deliveries that would send shivers in any batsman. But in an equally free flowing action, Sachin would very often pack his balls to the Boundary in style. All the equations settled and squared off within 3/4ths of a second, the viewer would only react to the aftermath. This to me was Cricket symphony of the highest order that only a maestro could produce. Take a bow Sachin.

November 14, 2009

A memorable evening in Dakar

In the early part of this year I made a Business trip to Senegal, a west African country located near the borders of south-eastern continental Europe. Dakar, its capital city displays an eclectic mix of Arabic & European influences and is heavily influenced by French urban styling & culture. During my week long trip in this country, I had several interactions with Businessmen, Officials & contacts of Indian origin staying in Dakar. Among the memorable one was the meeting I had with his Excellency Shri Parthasarathy, Indian Ambassador to Senegal.

I had the privilege of spending a delightful evening with him & his gracious wife at their sprawling official residence. The Ambassador’s residence is perched on top of a hillock in the heart of the city with a well laid out garden giving a panoramic view of the Atlantic ocean . What really amazed me was the natural settings , adding a touch of class to this panoramic view was some large stone cliffs with sharp edges that emerged right out of the sea as if someone had done some artistic landscaping for the Ambassador’s residence. Maybe the prestige of the location signifies the importance Senegal attaches to India which is its 2 largest trading partner. I guess India too attaches a lot of importance to this francophone country for geopolitical & strategic reasons.

Interacting with the Ambassador was quite lively & insightful; an unassuming Engineer and MBA , he has a sharp analytical mind with a strong grasp of geopolitical realities of this part of the world. He also speaks fluent French. Like a true blue diplomat his knowledge & interests spanned a range of topics from Poverty alleviation, 3rd world Technology adoption , Political climate, World affairs and even topics like Gold price movement & its underlying global factors etc that made interesting conversation . Naturally time flew in his August Company. They served me traditional Indian food which was simple & unostentatious and was a welcome break after a couple of days of strange alien food that I had survived on. But the dinner was doubly interesting to me for one simple novelty; the cutlery in which the food was served by the orderlies. Fine white porcelain dishes , gold rimmed alongwith the official insignia (Ashoka emblem)on it certainly gave me a whiff of what state hosted dinners could be.I signed off the evening in style when the Ambassador's smartly dressed black hunk of a chauffeur dropped me back to the Hotel in his S class black Mercedes.

November 8, 2009

Yeddy & the leadership lessons from the crisis.

Yesterday I was interacting with a senior Govt functionary over some contract related discussions at his expansive 7th floor office overlooking the adjacent Sankey Lake & it’s lush green surroundings that nestles a large sanctuary of birds. After the Business discussions the talk took a lighter banter over a cup of tea, and probably my curiosity had the better of me when I raised this rather awkward question to him; I said ‘Sir your dept & some of its officials in both the states (AP & Kar) are in the eye of the storm that is brewing in state politics’? He took a pause and slowly sipping his tea gave a rather candid answer; he said ‘where there are politicians, how can the bureaucrats be far behind? They use each other well & this is bound to happen’. One of his colleague who was also present said ‘Dont take most of these NEWS (i.e, pertaining to officials who are being used as pawns in this power struggle) at face value, there are a lot of things that more than meets the eye’.

It is said that this crisis was created by a blind sighted leader (Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa) & his approach to handling his team especially when it had powerful Business magnates. Whatever it may be, there are some Leadership lessons that Yeddy can take from this crisis, as I see it

1. A crisis may erupt over a small event (in this case flood relief management) but like a snowball rolling over a mountain slope will quickly gather weight & size .The snowballing in this case has still not ended after scalping several ministerial heads , a Principal secretary, and several Govt transfers. It will eventually end at the bottom but by then it would have stuck into the reputation of the party, the credibility of ministry and chiefly its CM. LESSON: Never skate rashly on thin ice Yeddy, especially when it’s been laid out by your money rich potential adversaries in the party.

2. People affected by the crisis, or sometimes those just watching it, will demand that someone be held responsible which in this unpleasant case is you & your confidants. LESSON: Stop making a spectacle of yourself in front of a hungry media. Leaders don’t cry or whine in front of the media even if to make an emotional point but retain their poise & composure even in tough times. Pls stand up and take a position for the people who have stood by you and don’t get cowed by those after you.

3. This crisis will officially end with some settlement and then comes the clean up. Clean up means change but sometime this fix may be temporary. LESSON: Dont bargain for short term fixes to cling on to your Gaddi, eventually people will judge you on how unwavering were your actions and how stronger you emerged after this crisis.

4. And just as with big, public crises, don’t ever forget that you have a business (in this case a Government) to run. Make sure you’re running it. Crack the whip on those MLA’s who are supposed to be on the ground supervising relief efforts in their districts instead of huddling in resorts.

October 30, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Many funny terms & jargon's emanated after the grand bust of 2008 and amongst them ‘Cash for clunkers’ best reflected the euphemism that Americans invented to deal with the aftermath of the excesses. So here was a state funded dole out that encouraged Americans to let go off their gas-thirsty vehicles off of the roads. But whats that go to do with their economy going belly up you might say. Pure economics was the main consideration though to an undiscerning eye it meant that Americans got new, efficient vehicles on their roads where gas-hogs once existed. And I guess there were plenty of takers for the $4,500 vouchers toward new vehicles, it was said that Auto Dealers everywhere in US ended up seeing more clunkers than they ever thought possible. Its another matter that they will make money out of these by recycling it to some poor 3rd world market.

The economics behind ‘cash for clunkers’ was revealing, it actually busted the American ‘free market’ hyperbole that is ‘Tom Tom’ed around the world. The big 3 US Automakers (GM,Ford & Chrysler), much like the motifs of dead towering presidents on Mount Rushmore were destined to be engraved on Automotive history for posterity . That was ideally what the market forces operating in a free market would have wanted to. But no, the stakes were too high for the Govt to sacrifice, closing the Big three would mean loss of 240,000 very highly-paid jobs, a loss of 980,000 highly-paid jobs at the suppliers and local dealers, plus the loss of 1.7 million additional jobs throughout the economy—a total loss of 3 million jobs. Never mind they churned out large sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks that made customers turn away from the counters. It also dint matter that Darwinian market evolution missed them completely, these US automakers became increasingly uncompetitive suffered from considerably higher labor costs than their non-unionized counterparts from Japan & Europe, including salaries, benefits, healthcare, and pensions. In return for labor peace, management granted concessions to its unions that resulted in uncompetitive cost structures and significant legacy costs. And the damning message came as early as in 2006, Consumer Reports reported that all 10 of the cars that it considered to be the 10 best were built by Japanese companies.So the bust came as a blessing in disguise for the Govt to bail them out, even though only 41% of Americans approved of the actions (as per Washington Post poll finding).

If you missed the humor in all this here it goes; The message from the US bailout was clear ‘If you are poor & loose $100 the Govt would do nothing to you , but if you are rich & loose the $100 billion, the Govt would bail you out’ . Bizzare but true.

October 19, 2009

A case of exploding mangoes

The scene is set among the final days of General Zia and his set of cronies protecting him from what they believe are a bunch of his own aging military generals waiting in the wings out to get him. He comes across vividly as a guy in some sort of dementia (what the author describes as a man self marinating in paranoia). Gen Zia believes he has become a prisoner in own Army house, a 5 mile security cover surrounding him is not enough, there is a fear that someone might be digging a tunnel underground to reach him! And even the itching in his back, which the doctor ascribes to intestinal worms tunneling out reminds him of his forlorn fate. Zia’s portrait as a shrewd but bumbling character is captured vividly and makes for interesting read but that appears only in alternate chapters, in the rest the author meanders listlessly among other unrelated topics (Blind Zainab, Underground cell in Lahore fort, American jaunts in Pak etc).

Characters like General Akthar, Chief of staff Beg, Major Kiyani ( i thought it was the current chief of Army but this guy goes down with the plane), Brigadier TM all appear to be some characters straight out of a typical Pakistan bashing Hindi movie that we are familiar with (the ones Ajay Devgan or Sunny Deol have wrestled with). There is no dearth of similar perception of India/Indians there....Land of Lentil eaters where Gandhi is described as banya while Nehru is a Fornicator, even Lata & Asha are not spared (fat ugly Indian sisters who sing like sex kitten); its all quid-pro-quo feeling across the border reflecting in the book.

Zia-ul-haq is the central theme of the book & he doesn’t disappoint, sample this ..
Without his uniform & presidential paraphernalia General Zia seemed to have shrunk. His moustache always waxed & twirled, drooped over his upper lip . His hair always oiled & parred down the middle was in a state of disarray, like a paraded squad on tea break.

General Zia’s eyes normally crossed, the right one looking in one direction while the left one wandered away to take in something else were for once focused in the same direction on the same objects (the chest of foreign correspondent Joanne herring). The angle of his stare was so obvious that if she drew two lines with a pencil, they would connect the iris of his eye straight to the two white spheres pushed up & pulled together.

He had almost made up his mind to reverse the crescent on the national flag after an Islamic scholar pointed out that it was a descending moon and not an ascending one, but then his advisers reminded him that the flag had been around for 40 years & since nobody actually had any problem with the direction of the crescent, it was better to leave the flag alone.

Mohammed Hanif’s novel exposes the bigotry & intrigue within Pak’s most powerful establishment with his heavily influenced westernized English language .

October 17, 2009

Pin it up...

A few months back I was taking my regular haircut at my favourite barber shop on Brigade Road. I usually prefer the staid & elderly Mr.Dasappa whom I call ‘Headmaster’ among the bunch of croppers there , even it means waiting for abt an hour for my turn. He carries out the task as some master Gardner , carefully picking up small clumps of hair and cropping them with finesse. Usually hair cutting becomes a byproduct under his tutelage, its the nice & soothing experience that one gets that brings me to him.

So the last time around I had a big & burly gentleman sitting next to me and during the course of our hair cut session we got into a conversation. It turned out that he was a Major in the Army and had just returned from a posting in the North. He spoke of the heroism of our men in Uniform & how they operated in trying circumstances. He said “You know we are fighting a ‘faceless enemy ’ (one amongst the crowd) and usually when we (the army) retaliate we face the flak for violating Human rights or being cruel to the public. Collateral damages are a part of the exercise but nobody understands this , we are the aggressors because we are in Uniform . They get all the sympathy because they are civilians. It dosent matter who started this mess” he quipped with a sigh.

These thoughts echoed in me as I went through a similar experience in the Apartment where I stay recently. The only difference being that there was no insurgency here but the watchman who was supposed to be the guardian ended up being a culprit in an incident where my Car was damaged . I don’t know what the motives were , but this guy tried to force open the petrol tank lid with pieces of stick & plastic when I was out of town for about a week. Circumstantial evidence, a bit of inquiring around & finally the confession of his fellow partner watchman helped me identify this culprit over the next 10 days. Initially I tried talking him out to get the confession (reason) & see whether he was repentant but he chose to remain adamant & in denial mode. Finally after about 2 weeks of warning I decided that this was a matter best left to the Police to decide. This guy continued to work in the appt & I dint want to risk any further incident. At the beginning of this month, returning from work one evening I saw this guy on ‘duty’ in the apartment. I went to him, gently held his hand & asked him to sit in the car saying that I was taking him to the police station. The fellow pretended to oblige initially, after coming towards the car he made a U turn and dashed in dramatic fashion to a flat on the first floor screaming as if a violent mob was behind his back. The heat of the moment took over me and I chased to grab him by the scruff of his neck & drag him to the police station as I had decided to. In the ensuing melee, this guy's shirt got torn as he clung to a door handle & I tried to drag him.

This incident left me as the aggressor and more sinned than the sinner. Worse, the guy who patronized this watchman and under whose cover he wanted to hide took up a strident position subsequently. He started writing lengthy mails questioning the incident , addressing all the association members and taking some moral high ground of being ‘just & humane’ . When I wrote back to cut the crap & bring the guy to the station which I reckoned as an appropriate forum, this vigilante member backed off meekly with the tail behind his legs.

He nonetheless made an effort to pin it up . Whether he got a medal on his chest or a kick on his back dint matter in the end.

October 4, 2009

Ads that add

Stopping at a traffic junction near the ASC centre near MG road, this ad caught my attention. Its novelty was quite evident, a picture of an attractive lady with full flowing hair preening back from what appeared to be the rear window of the autorickshaw and promoting a brand of local shampoo.

What I liked about this advt: This ‘in your face’ ad has been done with quite a bit of creative flair and contrarian approach, the picture gives a kind of holographic effect of a lady in an auto. The message is simple and bereft of any fancy slogan. It is unexpectedly different to the prevailing approach in outdoor advertising. 

Consider this, most outdoor advt vans have display boards that provide perpendicular view i.e, you’ll have to see them from the sides and not from the rear. Chances are that you don’t often see such ads on the roads. This one is however a clear winner in catching that attention span , not only while driving but at stationery Traffic junctions.

OOH (out-of-home) Ads like these are adding to improving the livelihoods of autodrivers and rickshaw pullers. Consider this, Patna based SammaaN foundation is getting various prime advertisers to emblazon their ads on the sides and rear of rickshaws. The rickshaw pullers get a fee for the ads & 1/3rd of the margins made by SammaaN on products sold ( one gets a choice of Newspaper, Water bottle, Juice, Biscuits when you board this rickshaw)

What may mar this advt: May be the product placement (i.e, shampoo which is generally considered a higher end FMCG product) may dilute its brand equity . Dust and grime, quite common in Indian cities will easily settle on the tarpaulin and  spoils visual clarity and presentation.

My Verdict: Simple, witty and superb placement. This one is more palatable than those snazzy but silly cola drinks that try to make you believe a 10 rupee sugary carbonated water will bring optimism & happiness even during these tough economic times ( referring to Coco Colas ‘ Open Happiness’ or Pepsi’s ‘Refresh everything ,campaigns)

September 28, 2009

Picturesque phrase

A picture may speak a thousand words but the converse is also true ; a few words could paint an entire picture on the canvas of mind’s imagination. here’s my list;

Daybreak gift-wrapping the foothills

A shiny dewdrop clinging to a blade of grass, glistening in the morning brightness.

An eagle perching on a shaft of air

Clouds leaning on mountain tops to rest

Whispering music of the ripening wheat sheaves in the field

Boats in the bay, sitting patiently on their reflections to the fading crimson light

Shining stars pinned to the soft canopy of the night

Gentle sound of crackling timber in the camp-lit fire

September 19, 2009

Down under: True to character?

I had a chance to link up with a good old friend & excolleague recently. A chartered accountant by profession, this quiet diminutive guy is currently based out at Sydney in Australia. Regular mail exchanges followed our LinkedIn connection and in one of the mails I put a general note of caution asking him to watch out his back & keep safe, out of harms bound. I guess the recent nasty developments in down under was uppermost in his mind too. Yet , he choose to tone down his reaction and wrote back me to saying “Thanks Vasant ...Generally Sydney is quiter than Melbourne. But life is pretty cool here with 99% of the people are good..”

Now he may be a better judge at assessing the situation out there but I was surprised at this calm demeanor in which responded. I am not sure whether the sensationalizing electronic media out here especially the TV NEWS channels have overhyped this situation and carried these incidents overboard, but whatever has happened, in whatever measure , has been utterly distasteful and downright ugly and nasty.

Looking back at his reaction, do i assume that only certain cities in Australia are violence/crime prone than others? Is Sydney safer than Melbourne going by the profile of its residents? Does it mean that these hoodlums are not restricted to few back corner alleys in dark downtown Australia but certain specific geographic locations defined by select cities? Seems hard to digest but Ian Botham, the former English cricketer had an interesting take on this; he always considered all Aussies to be a bunch of convicts who had been banished downunder from England (Ian also had an interesting take on Pakistan, he once described it as "the kind of place to send your mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid" in an off-the-cuff remark in a radio interview in 1984)

Could it be that this ‘Kalapani’ type island is turning true to its character now, especially with Indians? Between 1788 to 1868, about 165,000 convicts were sent to Australia which means 22 per cent of Australians are descended from exiles. Their sentences served, many convicts remained Down Under, becoming Australia’s first western settlers. Now their descendants are showing why they are often called the offspring of ‘burglars’, ‘heifer stealers’,’ felons’, etc. Ask those numerous badgered Indians and they shall swear by it.

September 13, 2009

Mid point Crisis

Sachin and Kumble's suggestion for 25 over (x2) and 40 over format respectively for the one dayer looks like they want to revv up the throttle even in this slightly longer version of the game. But how far can you press the adrenalin accelerator?

Assuming that the slam-bang version of the game has the highest excitement quotient, ask any cricket enthusiast and he will inevitably swear by the first few and last over’s of the match. The rush of adrenalin , brought about by the pace of change is always exciting. Its the middle over’s that a trifle little sedate and boring and I think that is at the center of this reformatting suggestions . 

The batsman consolidating, scratching and accumulating runs and preserving wickets for the final flourish while the opposite team trying to further peg them down has never been an exciting proposition in the short form of the game. The graph that usually depicts this phase is a drooping curve or at best a staid flat line while the tendency is to seek a rocket like trajectory.

Is it a universal phenomena that got to do with everything ranging from sports to general change encompassing everything from project management to human lives? On this Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an interesting insight, she says ‘Welcome to the miserable middles of change. This is the time when Kanter's Law kicks in. Everything looks like a failure in the middle. Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work’.

September 2, 2009

I wonder why...

Taare Zameen Par (TZP) a Hindi movie based on the story of a 10-year old dyslexic boy takes viewers on the journey to a world of amazing possibilities achieved by encouraging an young mind. While TZP may have inspired many constituencies, it profoundly impacted audiences on a kind of sensitization that is required to understand and encourage the world of small children and their imaginations. 

As they say creativity doesn't come with a boxed set of instructions. By nature,creativity is unleashed by stepping outside the normal thought patterns to connect to a new idea or new way of saying or writing something. And it’s not just limited to children with normal abilities as the film clearly depicts. It is very important to encourage children develop imagination and here’s a piece of information I gathered on some of its amazing benefits

• Imagination helps school-age children solve problems by helping them think through different outcomes to various situations and role playing ways to cope with difficult or new circumstances.

• Imagination allows children to practice real-life skills. From shopping at a pretend grocery store to assigning roles and dialogue to dolls or puppets, children's pretend play helps them practice and apply new learning and better understand how those skills are used in the real world.

• Imagination encourages a rich vocabulary. Telling and hearing real or made-up stories, reading books and pretend play help children learn and retain new words.

• Imagination helps children grow up to be adults who are creative thinkers. Adults who were imaginative children often become problem solvers, innovators and creative thinkers.

My 4 year old son lives in his own world of imagination which reflects in many of his sketches. So apart from his computer & TV games he spends a good part of his free time sketching drawings and playing with his favorite car toys. I have put together a collection of his sketches on strange creatures that somehow come alive in his world or let’s say ‘Echo in his grey Hills’. Looks like some strange alien planet to me but interesting nonetheless

"You see things and you say Why? But I dream things that never were and I say, why not?" - George Bernhard Shaw

August 29, 2009


This week & one before has been tough for me, I have been going through excruciating pains of body induced infirmity. And I have been trying to take my mind away from it by watching endless sessions of brilliant presentation of ideas on TED. Now what’s TED? Many people may have not heard about and many more may not have fully comprehended this 3 letter phenomenon called TED. I’ll give an interesting analogy; Everyone must be aware of the smash hit movie of the early 80s called Superman. In the movie there is this glowing green crystal that magically builds the Fortress of Solitude resembling the architecture of Krypton on earth. Activating a control panel inside the fortress, a vision of Jor-El (Superman’s father) explains Clark (Superman, originally Kal-El) on origins, educating him in his powers and responsibilities and finally empowers him to save the world. Now imagine if there ever was such a green crystal in reality what would it do? Ofcourse it would build a fortress of wonder & rediscovery by enabling visions of some of the most talented & intelligent people on earth doing things that usually occupy the outer reaches of fiction. They may not be Kryptonites but their ideas certainly border on Möbius Strip, much like its mathematical origins, blurs boundaries and they are out there to suspend people’s beliefs & imagination and to educate them just like in the movie. TED is equivalent of that green crystal because that’s exactly what it’s set out to do.

TED in short for technology, entertainment and design is a small non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading and was the brainchild of Richard Wurman but now run by Chris Anderson. It may have started with three disciplines 25 years ago but has become the meeting place of the greatest minds from across disciplines today . The Quality of the speakers & their crisp 18 minute and thereabout talk addresses just about everything. Sample this
• Do you know just in time or as it happens mapping of brain is possible? Christopher deCharms demonstrates a new way to use fMRI to show brain activity -- thoughts, emotions, pain -- while it is happening
• Want to know why the Osama Bin Laden’s or the Pramod Mutalik (of Pink Chaddi fame) of the world do & act the way they do? Blame it on dangerous Memes that Dan Dennett explains
• Are you aware of the 4 sets of Ideas that are impacting India & its implication on the world at large ? Delve into Nandan Nilekani’s mind for answers
• Do you know that the search for cosmic company till now has been equivalent to scooping one glass of water from an ocean and we are already expecting fish in it? SETI's Jill Tarter explains..

You could watch this & many more at www.ted.com and be a part of the growing list of 100 million plus lucky viewers to date.

August 17, 2009

Levitt’ating Economics

Economics , can be a subject vacillating between extremities. Atleast that’s the way I found it to be. On one hand you’ll find tonnes of theories propounded by John Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith and their ilk and among the reams of such theories lay ideas of on how Market forces interact at macro & micro level. Esoteric as it may be , on the other hand you have economics lay buried in Complex mathematical equations, and awash with numbers spewed by statistics. It therefore required someone like Levitt & Dubner to have done economics a great favour by taking it to middle ground and demystifing it in this book ‘Frekonomics – A Rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything‘. That they have done it admirably in this book lies in no doubt, but more importantly during this process, they have succeeded in relating Economics to a layman and his common sense.

Using various case studies Levitt & Dubner, unravel Economics with a basic hypothesis that it operates at a fundamental level on an elaborate scheme of Incentives (or disincentives) as one would call it. And in many a ways they use Economics to explain missing links between seemingly unrelated phenomena. Like the commonality between School teachers & Sumo wrestlers ; how they conveniently bend the rules of the game to incentivise themselves. Or the striking similarity in the way Drug Cartel organise themselves and operate like any corporate entity say McDonalds (their analogy) makes interesting reading.

They also show how Economics can also make strange bedfellows, however jarring it may be, for instance they elaborately make a case out of how abortion was one of the greatest crime lowering factors in American history contrary to popular wisdom. In another instance they show how the Internet has flattened the ‘Information Asymmetry’. The book goes to add “Information is the currency of the Internet. As a medium, the internet is brilliantly efficient at shifting information from the hands of those who have it into the hands of those who do not”. Bad news for all those experts; Doctors, Lawyers, Insurance salesman or the Real estate agents.

In a nutshell it is a wonderful compilation from someone self described as “ an economist who instead of thinking grand macro thoughts, favoured his own list of offbeat micro curiosities”.

July 30, 2009

Jana Gana Tu.....Jane Gaana mein

'Anirudh' my 3.5 Yr Old Nephew has attempted at rending the National Anthem in his own inimitable style. His pronunciation is hilarious but the spirit is genuine. Hope you too enjoy it

July 18, 2009

Khana Khazana: Belgaum Khau-gallis

Belgaon-Belgaum-Belagavi: It may carry several pronunciations but is quintessentially the same old place where I grew up and have fond memories of. It may still be a sleepy old town, by Bangalore standards (that is), but in many ways exhibits a unique flavor in many other aspects of its facets. A confluence of various cultures it could still be the second most cosmopolitan city in the state after Bangalore. And among the notable features of Belgaum is not only the cool temperate climate, sweet water (now available 24X7 in many parts of the city) but also its veritable delicacies.

Belgaum is my favorite place for 2 reasons; its the place where I grew up - home, school/college, club, friends et al., but also great cheap food. The city may be a potpourri of various influences but it still retains originality in the quality and taste of food in some of its quintessential eateries. Madhavashram, Amba Bhavan, Uday Bhuvan, Prakash, New Grand, Ghanis, Ajanta, Zuber, India Bhel House are all venerable names in this lexicon that belong to my list. It has its own list of Khau-gallis where one can still find cheap, tasty and hygienic food.

Belgaum city Khau-gallis- Khana Khazana

The Savaji food rules the Belgaum taste buds, hot fiery dishes cooked in a concoction of grated coconut & red chilli powder, garlic etc with generous amount of oil that necessarily has to float on top of the gravy (also called cut) comes in Mutton or Chicken variety. The Savajis trace their culinary history to the Maratha rulers and their influence is still widely spread in North Karnataka, from places like Hubli upto Gulbarga where the food is quite popular. I am disappointed that there are hardly any such eateries in Bangalore, frankly there is a overkill of Andhra style food here. A lot of culinary dishes that you find in North Karnataka has strong affinity to Maharashtrian food - Rotis or bhakar, Zunka, Poha, Amti etc etc is quite common (like the dress code).

Then there is this Mughlai food in Belgaum, and some of its exponents could be the best in business in this part of the Deccan region outside of Hyderabad. Zuber’s, Niyaz and Ghani’s biryani are worth giving a hand and leg for, its flavor and taste, quite distinct from that of the Hyderabadi types.

For Veggies the numerous Khanavali’s (aka Basappa Khanavalis)in Belgaum give a unique peek into the culinary culture of the shaivaites that the various Mutts propagate in this region. Jowar Rotis in accompaniment of fiery red hot or blackseed chutneys, served with zunka and raw onions are its forte. Usually accompanied in this palate is this delectable side dish of Brinjal cooked in a gravel like masala ground with groundnut,sesame seeds, coconut etc. Finally for the desserts it is the famous Belgaum Kunda (a brownish milk based sweet), Dharwad Peda or the Gokak Kardant (Cake of dry fruits & coconut) that can signoff the treat

All about Belgaum (AAB), a local popular website has published a useful list of popular delicacies in Belgaum city.

July 11, 2009

And quiet flows this Kaveri

I recently happened to meet the Director of Municipal administration in connection with a Business related proposal. The official happened to be someone I knew but never had the occasion to meet before. Her name is Kaveri & she is a KAS officer (Karnataka Administrative service). Some strange unusual anxiety gripped me going into this meeting , I had heard about her in the PG campus back in the University days and was in the NEWS for being the women topper in the KAS probationary officers exam back in 1994. I was one of those aspiring candidates then & had made quite a few friends in the campus from different study streams who took this exam. Some among those are still in touch, one is an Asst. Commissioner of Commercial taxes while another is other an Asst. Commissioner of police. Others have gone into oblivion.

Her office was located in the heart of the Central Business district of Bangalore in this strange & eclectic building called Visvesvaraya towers (named after the brilliant engineer & erstwhile dewan of Mysore popularly known as Sir M.V). The building looks quite Mod from outside but step inside & you’ll find it typical Goverment’ish, the usual environment characteristic of Babudom hits you. The elevators inside & its panel outside resemble straight out of a 1950’s Eastman color Sci-Fi movie. When I entered her cabin on the 13floor she was huddled with 2 other officials half buried in a pile of files frenetically clearing some of them before end of day. Govt offices have the luxury of closing at 6:00 pm, whatever may the urgency, it can await the Babu’s kind attention the next day. However it must be said that Yeddy (the CM) has been cracking the whip of late& making officers accountable on progress, so it is not unusual to see Bureaucrats sweating it out in the corridors of power. Sensing such a situation beforehand I had referred the name of a senior colleague before seeking an unscheduled appointment with her.

As I entered her cabin, she seemed to take a momentary pause from her pile & asked me what it was it about. As I nervously muttered about my purpose of visit giving a quick background to the meeting, she listened with a calm demeanour. But somewhere beneath the still countenance was some urgency & was not surprised when she gave me the number of another colleague who she said was in the concerned section and would be a better person to deal in the matter. So as I prepared to get up I asked whether she was from the 1994 batch of KAS.

A curious smile lit up her pretty face & she gave me a more attentive and interested look. She said 1997 batch but I immediately countered saying that was the result year and the exam year was 1994! That started a prolonged discussion. Her cabin was expansive and had one of the best views I had ever seen in Bangalore. To the immediate right was the Vidhan Soudha & Attara Kacheri at close range and beyond that the UB city interspersed in a sea of greenery(thanks to Cubbon park), all cloaked in a blanket of light drizzle on a cold dreary evening. I had imagined that the view from my 4th floor cabin at the ICICI towers on commissariat road was fantastic but this was even better.

Somewhere during the chat I propped up the question that I always wanted to ask; how the KAS career had been sofar? That question has always been of great interest to me, I had made a conscious decision then to give it a pass. In a plain matter of fact speaking she shrugged & said it had been Ok. No tinge of either satisfaction or disappointment left me even more curious but I did not pursue the point further. The purpose of the meeting had been different & I had to call it ends as the clock was ticking towards 6:00.

July 7, 2009

#50, 1 Year and ...

....the blabber continues. Well that’s how I intend to describe my blogging adventure of the past 1 year. In a nutshell that is. Coincidentally I am into the 50th article on this occasion and it has been one happy twitter on various topics. The upsides have been many, 20 odd dedicated readers, many a good reviews but by far the most effective & meaningful one has been in reaching out to many of my friends & acquaintances who otherwise would have relegated me to the dustbins of their memory – ‘Out of sight , out of mind’ as the adage goes. Given that the mindactive decay is very rapid in this information explosion age, blogging has helped me keep connected with them.

Come to think of it, in many ways this has been an exercise where I have been trying to connect with the surrounding and sounding out my reaction. Obviously the risks & downsides have been there, I could be sounding goofy at times or sometimes the reader may have got the impression that I had indulged in an exercise of deprecation, unwarranted opinion making or scoring brownie points. But that’s the risk part that is always involved in doing something and taking the Bouquets & Brickbats in equal measure was my call.

Many have asked me about the title to the blog and I have been explaining thus; The way I look at experience is a cumulative sum of everything that crosses your path which most of the time hits you like a waft of air - perceptions, interactions, situations , circumstances etc and each has its own story to tell; it only requires a kind of sensitization to receive it & interpret to explain it in one’s perspective. All this happens in the deep recesses of the mind which in many ways acts like the vast labyrinth of mindscape akin to Grey Hills. And fluttering through these recesses are the thoughts that echo incessantly. Some humming by while others creating a big twang. (sounds esoteric eh?)

This Blog has been an attempt to interpret all these thoughts which I believe may interest the readers. I have consciously moved away from restricting to any one single topic or theme because I am not espousing any cause or interest. If I did, I believe, might have brought in the fatigue & disinterest in me more than my readers. Many thanks for all your support & encouragement.

June 29, 2009

From Nano to Jaguar: the mindspace paradox

Yesterday when the TATA’s announced bringing the Jaguars & Land Rovers to Indian roads, what struck me was their price tags , the former at a whopping 96 Lakhs! One aspect of Jaguar’s positioning & its pricing has been a novelty by itself, something that Indians are not familiar with. The novelty part being its attempted audaciousness in occupying the Indian consumer mind space, which has largely been so far ill defined for such high luxury products, thanks to our socialist mindset of the past 50 years . The difficulty I was grappling with in my mind was making some sense of the price as a result of this dilemma, where it is hard to figure out how to place a value on something in relative isolation. This is a problem that I often face when doing some window shopping in a high street shop or an upmarket shopping Mall. Is it the Indian ethos that has always been steeped in frugality or the socialist model and its left- of- the- center policies of this country that has firmly put a psychological lid on the mindset for such material luxuries? In my previous article I mentioned about the fact that a whole generation grew up on a steady diet of Fiats & Ambassadors – thanks largely to the Nehruvian -Mahalanobis model where the state decided on the limited choices we made; like we usually wore Binny textiles, drank Campa Cola and drove around in a Premier Padmini. Even watching some dull & drab documentary from I&B ministry in Cinema Halls was mandatory before the actual Movie screening. Even though we traveled a fair distance from that past maybe the hangovers are still there.

The quirkiness of this whole episode is that the same company (i.e, TATA) anchored the Indian mindset to the possibility of a Rs 1 Lakh car very recently. Can the Co , by any stretch of imagination bring about a sense of price relativity (inferring the value of product from the prices of similar offerings)& yet differentiate its offering in the Indian consumer mindset? The answer to that I may get when I get to see the Nano & Jaguar sharing the same showroom space.

June 25, 2009

Fiat’n Caveat

The Fiat grande Punto is visible across Hoardings in Indian cities marking its entry on Indian roads. For someone like me the name Fiat brings in nostalgia, for a generation that grew on a steady diet of Fiats & Ambassadors and nothing much else, it evokes reaction. As a kid I used to always wonder about these ugly country cousins that we were used to owning while one got to see exotic cars only in the dark confines of Cinema Halls shows English films. First look at the Punto reinforces that nostalgic emotion, but with a twist. Here’s a fourth or probably fifth generation car that has all the trappings of premium hatchback but just take a close look at its Front Grill ; it sits on its front visage as some old appendage reminiscent of the car expressions of 1950’s or probably 60’s. Everything else has changed, the aerodynamic body contouring with its smooth edges, bright headlights that wrap around nicely and the rest of the paraphernalia. But the Front Grill, its upper half being prominent, just sits there in the front with a grimace or shall I say dreary look. It almost reminds me one of the smug emoticon on Instant messenger.

Now what baffles me is that the car has been designed by the famous ‘Fiat style centre’ & is a product of its chief designer Giorgetto Giugiaro . Traditionally every Car maker leaves his genetic imprint on his/her finished product. It could be a certain style of designing the body shell especially in the front or back, engine (including its placement), or chassis design (especially that concerning its clearance from the ground) etc. This list also includes front grill that more often than not bears the hallmark of its maker. Car designers , like others of their ilk in the design fraternity have a vocabulary that describes or explain their design. I wonder what Fiat’s designers had to say while designing the grille? Hope they are aware that when another Car maker planned to launch a model in India, they had to give considerable facelift to their front grill after extensive pre-launch consumer surveys & feedback showed that Indian’s dint like a Car with a frowning look. I am not sure whether Fiat’s choices of Grill design was driven by some ambitious plan to breakout from the current clutter and bring out its strong cult like image & following that it had in India of the past. That the car packs a strong emotional punch & ownership desire is in little doubt but this bit of grill trivia makes it doubly interesting.

June 17, 2009

Voila WoM!

Word of Mouth (WoM) has been a very potent tool in the world of Sales & Marketing. I realized that pretty early in my career when I was with IFB in their Marketing head office at Bangalore. It was the Year1994 & Manmohan Singh’s economic miracle was just unfolding on the market forces.

It was my first job in the Pvt Sector & I was enamored by all the lofty thoughts of Marketing I had learned during my MBA days. However this humble WoM made me realize the terra firma of the real Marketing world soon. This Company (then called IFB-Bosch due its collaboration with the German major) was in uncontested Territory but in a relatively small segment of the then washing machine market. But with relatively little or nil advertising & marketing spends, the Company commanded more than two thirds share of the fully automatic washing machine segment.

Those were the days when Videocon’s jingle had overtaken Nirma’s washing powder jingle on popularity charts. And Videocon made fully automatic washing machines, albeit top loading ones. Yet it among others like Onida, Godrej, TVS-Whirlpool etc stood nowhere near IFB in sales terms.

As an apprentice I was assigned to the Customer contact programme (CCP) in the Company & I used to churn out data based on consumer feedback that sounded almost unbelievable to be true. Day after day and months on end CCP forms used to flow to the Marketing head office from IFB branch offices all over the country and fed in a FoxPro Application. These were forms that service technicians used to fill up from IFB Customers at the time of machine Installation by enticing them with a small Co gift (Cuffs’n Collars). And it had one innocuous question that read something like this

Q:You bought an IFB washing machine because

• Newspaper Advertisements
• Dealer recommended strongly
• Product demonstration/Sales appeal
• Neighbour/Relative/Friend recommended
• Others (pls specify)

In what turned out to be majority of the cases (something like 70-75%) customers overwhelmingly bough IFB because of the positive reinforcement due to word of mouth publicity in their relative/friend/colleague circle.

The Company tried, rather unsuccessfully, to carry forward this concept by getting prospective referrals from these customers through the same CCP programme and marketing them directly. It did not succeed because the customer pull it generated was effectively cannibalized by the dealer through undercutting and realizing better price margins to consumer. That the consumer durable market was highly price sensitive and the dealers ravenously undercut each other on product margins helped.

However the fact that WoM helped the Company sell more than its competitors who were bigger brands and had much higher marketing spends in the market stood out. In the process I learnt a thing or two about database marketing from the Marketing Guru ‘A Ramana Rao or ARR as we fondly called him’ who made this concept the cornerstone of Company’s marketing strategy and took the Company to NumerUno position in the market. That crown went undisputed for many many years .

Cut the chase to today & brands have begun to look at measuring the efficacy of this communication & advertising medium in a serious and structured fashion. Consumer voices are now much more amplified by various communication technologies such as Blogs, discussion forums, social networking sites, RSS among others. You have companies like Toyota Motor Corp, J&J, Kellogs, Nike that have embraced WoM big time and helping them with WoM metrics are specialist Cos like Chatthreads Corp, Cymfony, Umbria, Trnd, Buzzador among others.

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