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 10, 2010

Lampner’s sleight of hand


That the various laws of life come into play frequently at the most inappropriate moments of our lives is something everyone might have experienced. Murphy’s law, Kauffman’s paradox, Salary axiom, Miller’s law of insurance and the list goes on but recently Lampner’s law caught up with me.

The  Project work with the state Govt  that keeps me preoccupied these days took me to 2 places away from Bangalore last week, one of which was  a welcome break from the hustle & bustle of city life to  a vast serene Govt. training campus spread over several hundred acres  on the outskirts of Dharwar town.   An official jeep ferried me from the Railway station  to this  campus as were countless others - all senior & mid level officials from north Karnataka covering several districts who came to attend the  one day workshop cum orientation training. I had requested the department boss (a senior functionary equivalent to a CEO)  to grace these sessions and he had  kindly obliged. But giving company was also another  Sr official (sectional head) who was supposed to oversee the arrangements and facilitate these workshops. 

This guy was anything but helpful: pesky, irritating us all the time with his typical Babu tantrums. He did little to facilitate the workshop but hung around us everywhere. Even tagging along when we met some officials in their chambers after the meeting. So the second day we (myself & colleague) decided to give this guy a slip after the meeting. So when the workshop got over we managed to pack our things quickly and made our way through the Govt building progressively getting away from his visual sight .  First we made our way to the toilets and then watching him through the distance among the Govt office corridors we slyly made our way to the exit. We had spotted him moments earlier walking into one of the adjacent buildings and so were  confident of our final move to the parking lot to make it to our vehicle. 

But as if by Lampner’s (law) sleight of hand, there he was at the parking lot! – a mischievous grin on his face and we were stranded like people with 2 left feet!

November 27, 2010

NatGeo Mission Army : a firsthand account

NatGeo in association with Indian Army conducted the selection process to Mission Army: Desk Ke Rakshak  in Bangalore last Sunday. The previous such attempts by  NatGeo namely Mission Udaan, Mission Mount Everest & Mission Navy had been quite popular . So decided to check it out this time around. The fact that I was competing with mostly 18-25 year olds didn’t deter me, I wanted to see whether I could really stand up to the rigorous selection standards (reportedly the SSB format) set by the Army set for this reality TV show 




So on a cold Sunday early  morning I set out to the Rajput Regiment Parachute Regiment Training Centre (PRTC) (said to be the fittest of the Army units) at JC Nagar Bangalore . There I expected to see large crowds, given that it had been well publicized, but could find only  about 25 faithfuls  at the gates around  6 in the morning. However by the time they herded us into Army trucks in groups of 25 around 7:30 am the crowd had swelled to around 200. 

After the registration formalities, a display crib was tied to each participant and bundled in groups of 50 each.  Each participant had to undergo 4 rounds of selection to finally make it to the lucky 5 from each city Mumbai (for west), Bangalore (for South) & Delhi ( for North) . The final 5 would spend 45 days as a part of the Indian army  & one among them would finally end up abroad and train with the Israeli intelligence (Mossad)

The first  hurdle in this journey  was the endurance test : a candidate was supposed to cover a vast 2.5 km stretch of Army ground under 10 minutes or the first 25  whichever earlier . A designated track was marked along this  vast stretch of grassy  army land that was both picturesque  and daunting. After a basic instruction drill by a smartly dressed officer, the gun was fired and most of the young hopeful darted as if it were a 100 mts dash, not surprisingly many were out of steam after about 800 meters. I  ran the course steadily and after a bit of stretch in the end made it through the first round. About 90 made it through this round.

A cream bun & puff  breakfast later the second hurdle  was a case study analysis followed by a group discussion. Groups of 15 participants were to  analyze a case situation that was given to us in a brief write up and pictorially depicted on a large display map ( marked out by railway & road tracks, forest boundary, Villages, Scales etc). Under 7 minutes the participant had to analyze the situation & provide a course of action to tackle the situation in a brief 1page  write up.  This was followed by a  group discussion. An army officer read out the Instruction at the start  & followed up with a hawk like observation at a distance, constantly jotting down the  progress made by the participants . 50% of the participants were filtered out  in this round of selection. The group that made through this round let out a war cry when the results were announced in the noon. Little did we realise what lay in store ahead.

On a sultry noon, when the sun was beating upon us , they took us to another hard sand  ground where the still euphoric 45 participants faced  this new Instructor. This  guy appeared straight out of a Hollywood commando movie, gruff and  with a bit of features that reminded me of  Bruce Willis. He put us through a exercise regimen over the next 45 minutes that I would like to forget in a hurry. 40 normal  push-ups followed by 20 knuckle push-ups as we simultaneously carried the entire body  5 steps  forward & backward respectively. Followed by another 20 while clapping  hands in the middle of the pushups.  The groans that started mid way through this exercise  increased to desperate pleading by the time the count reached 80. This was followed by various types of leg squats, body stretches & exercises that I never knew existed in physical regimen. The Nat Geo guys quickly sensed  a medical emergency situation and thankfully stopped this Rambo from doing any serious damage to  us (the guy though reacted as if it were just the warm up & the main course was yet to begin!)

The third round was what I would call a physio-psychometric test, the final batch of 45 were  broken into 3 teams and assembled around a small ‘situational area’ where the team had to follow certain set of instructions and overcome certain natural  barriers. We had to act as a team and not  individuals to cross the barriers. We were given a set of 2 ropes, a plank and a wooden pole, that we had to use to overcome the situation. Areas marked in blue were one could either stand & not use the support material while those in  white where we could do both.   As we went through the exercise another officer watched closely at a distance and made notes.


By early evening, around 4 pm the exercises were over and a final list of 11 (instead of 15) were announced for the final round of interview. 2 Girls & 9 boys (lucky eleven I would say as there was nothing much to differentiate) were selected and the rest of us, well disappointed to say the least  returned back to  the base posing for a final photograph before we bid adieu to each other.

November 10, 2010

2 Hammer head sharks under the bonnet

There is something about the car facia that gets my goat. Sometime back  I mentioned about fiat Punto on this Blog. This time around its Hyundai which has come out with its new variant of Verna – its midsized car. Verna by the way is a very common first name for women  and I wonder why Hyundai could conjure this name for a masculine looking car? Anyway that’s not the point. Look at its front grill, it has two pieces of what appears to be shovels jutting out of its Bumper. To me it appears as though the car is carrying two hammer head sharks under its bonnet!

Hammer head sharks with their mallet-shaped head called Cephalofoil are not the most elegant looking in the shark family, their strange headgear is almost considered abnormal. Neither is the creature known for any positive attributes like strength, aggression or speed.  If the car designers were not inspired by it what could they? Generally car styling (product form)  is done with a purpose of creating an impression or generate inferences regarding other product attributes like say ruggedness or power? For example the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup’s front end was designed to resemble the cab on an 18 wheeler to suggest strength & power. 

I have no clue on the former but generally it is believed that many car makers adopt front grille  among the styling cues (developed in  their research labs) in search of a new unified Brand image &  to achieve a distinctive character that would allow its models to be easily recognized in the global markets. Examples are Subaru  & closer  home Tata motors. Last week I saw their new crossover ‘Aria’  on a TV news channel with its trademark  semi smiley grill - massive though it was. 

Speaking of Subaro, the Japanese carmaker took its design so seriously that it fired  its Design Director Andreas Zapatinas over its controversial front grille design which was based  on the propeller theme.

So is this Verna design has something to do other than what  their designers wished for? Maybe  then they can take a cue from  BMW's DesignWorks and Nissan's Design Center which are intentionally placed far away from the dogmatic limitations that guys in grey suits and ties in corporate headquarters usually impose.

October 27, 2010

Counting your Chicken before they hatch

Why is  IIPM offering an MBA degree that nobody would recognize? muses Vir Sanghvi  in his blog recently. The answer it appears is simple though. IIPM  has this CEO who simply believes & acts  in ‘Counting  his  Chickens Before They Hatch’!

On a serious note the reality of  the matter is  that there are too many wannabe MBA institutes wanting to get a chunk of this large market and the fight between the ‘me-too’  segments is only getting fiercer. However dubious their claims or reputations may be – Vir’s well articulated article being a case in point. It’s another case,  for instance, why many colleges in Bangalore go without a single admissions in a year

My Project office lies bang opposite the Karnataka Examinations Authority office in malleswaram and I have been witness to what could be called a prolonged spectacle. That is until recently CET Counseling was in full swing here and flocking this center were hordes of engineering & other degree (including BBA - MBA) Institutes that marketed their wares in every possible way. Just passing by that road meant that you would have brochures of atleast 15 different colleges in hand before you crossed the centre.  And parking on the opposite side of the road were numerous College Vans & Buses with banners, buntings and all kind of promotional materials. 

The interesting thing is; as the days progressed and the counseling progressed to the lower rung ranks of students, newer and never-before heard colleges from far flung & beyond areas appeared near the counseling center. And many tried hard with their outdoor presentations; decent looking campuses & beaming students on their brochures & posters.

So what if one of the promoters of these colleges goes to bed worrying about the empty benches but wakes up one fine morning & says ‘lets do something different’? 

There you have another Arindam Choudhary story.


October 21, 2010

Saik it up



Captured this Sheikh pushing his cart near Corporation circle recently, reminded me of the Joke
Q: What do you call a Badam that likes to dance?
A: A Badam shake (saik)!
Notice you can also have ‘Choklate’ variety here...

October 9, 2010

Bangalore Blues...& Red & Green..

Bangalore aka Bengaluru gets its usual colour every fall; the myriad flowering trees (numbers of which are dwindling though) blossoming in a riot of Yellow, Red, Purple & White. This time though they have some serious competition; street side colorful murals depicting various facets of Karnataka & India.

The effort of the city municipal body (BBMP) that kicked off in 2009 seems to have paid off; in place of defaced public properties covered with anything from film posters to advertisements for jobs or paying guests one now finds serene pictures. Like the good old photo studios of yore, theme backdrops backgrounds in muslin or canvas where one could pose for photographs on a dummy scooter or car. Only difference is that nobody pauses for a photograph here though!

October 1, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Courtesy my BiL and his complimentary tickets at PVR, i saw the movie over the last weekend. The sequel to the 1987 hit was not that captivating though. Imagine ketan parikh coming out of jail, his sins pardoned, to write a book called ‘Greed is Good’ and lecturing people on how and why people like harshad mehta or ramalinga raju screwed the financial market.

Gordon gekko does something similar but with a lot of panache and polish . His daughter in the meanwhile who has grown up to hate him for not only his misdeed but her brother’s unfortunate death whom she holds him responsible for neglect, stays with her boyfriend (Jake) who incidentally also happens to be a bright upshot on the wall street. They stay in plush apartment, buy expensive gifts and drive fancy bikes courtesy the fat bonuses Jake gets from his boss who also happens to his mentor at the Investment firm.

But it so happens that Gekko’s former bête noire (Bretton James) now drives Jake’s mentor boss (Lewis Zabel) to death when the Investment firm goes belly up.

Jake wants to bring the father-daughter together much to her fiancé’s consternation, who at one point in time tells him ‘Dont go back to him, he can hurt us’. The daughter knows the father too well and he lives up to his billing. Gekko convinces Jake to get his daughter to transfer $100 Million from a trust account in Switzerland that he had stashed in her name just before he went to jail . But instead of transferring the money to some company involved in fusion technology, which Jake believes is the next big idea, he pockets the same and vanishes into thin air (the plot seemed a bit far fetched though - imagine somebody hoodwinking the attorneys and amidst all the paper work in a Swiss bank involving a huge sum of money).

In the meantime Jake has joined Bretton and after falling out with him decides to deliver a sucker punch to redeem his mentor death. He sits overnight and produces some damning piece of report that sends this billionaire Wall St. hotshot into a legal & financial tailspin. In Quick time......Haha.

Gekko who has now turned this $100 million into billions (god knows how) has a change of heart and comes back to fulfill the broken promise i.e, transfer the $100 Million to the fusion company and bring the 2 together.

A kind of family melodrama where the son-in-law redeems himself, daughter reconciles, a common enemy vanquished & the wily gecko turning a leaf for the better. Good in parts and with Oliver stone at the helm you can expect a well knit movie with brilliant texture and feel to the film. Sonny & Wifi slept through the movie though.

September 22, 2010

A case of the missing National pride.

Sometime back a humor mail went around on the subject what would happen if IPL was nationalized, it implied the possible horrors of ‘govmint control’ on this format of the game. Joke? certainly not, looking at the way the commonwealth games are being organized in the country. Yesterday all hell broke loose on TV News channels with the Foot Bridge collapsing near the Nehru stadium. Worse was the comment made by Mike Hooper, the CWG official about the filth around the Games Village. Amidst this clamor & the inanities (especially the replies by concerned officials) one thing I find woefully missing – NATIONAL PRIDE. Where the Hell is it ? Not a sign of it anywhere .

On Aug 24 National Geographic aired an episode on Mega Bridges Week that I watched with great Interest. The ‘Millau Bridge’ was a colossal engineering effort meant to shorten the route connecting Paris to the Mediterranean by about 60 miles. Watching this serial was a lesson in ‘National Pride’; what it takes to make a country truly great and remarkable. The care & sensitivity in choosing the bridge design , the precise engineering skills applied to building it, the innovativeness shown in facing challenges (they end up inventing tools to meets its unique construction challenges), the commitment to meeting deadlines and the finesse with which they finally complete the Job.

The crowning moment comes when the two ends of the bridge finally inch towards one another at a height of about 343 meters from the ground (higher than the Eiffel tower). With the precision of a Swiss Watch the 2 ends meet while the French National Flag furls symbolically at this very point while the French President hovers above in a Helicopter to witness the moment. The commitment is awe inspiring but underneath the whole effort one can see the undercurrent of national pride and zeal. Seeing the French national flag at the precise meeting point reminded me about the 9/11 incident in the United states. At the ground zero (where the twin towers had collapsed in a rubble) & the damaged portion of the Pentagon building , the US flag was hoisted with great pride & determination. ‘Down but not Out’ the signal went indicating the zeal to rebuild it because national pride was at stake.

An ounce full of this fervor among all of us can help us tide over this mess called CWG.

September 10, 2010

The bad lands of Hindukush and the Indian woman CFO.

The retail asset hub of CBoP in Andheri used to be a beehive of activity during 2007. Amidst the crowd and clamour Shweta Singh glided through her work almost effortlessly. The lady had an unusually broad face , a heavy build type that complimented it and usually accompanied by a serious demeanour that I felt was necessary for her job profile in the office. You cannot expect credit managers in Banks to be of the jovial friendly type, usually they come across with a ‘do-not-mess-with-me’ air hanging around them. Most of the time they are hounded by Sales guys to get their files passed and then pilloried by collections for asset book quality. Its a classic ‘middle of the chain’ job profile that gets grinded from both sides.

So when this lady announced on LinkedIn that she was taking up a banking job offer in Afghanistan I wondered whether things had gotten really that worse for a credit manager in India! While congratulating on her new role as ‘Chief finance officer’ of an Afghan Bank the curious’ier in me again got hold ‘You are a brave heart i must say...but Afghanistan of all places?’ I blurted. To which her typical gumption filled reply was

“I got married & my Husband was shifted to Kabul as he works for a company which is NATO allied. So I have to shift there...actually there are a lot of Indian's out here but they avoid keeping their families. But actually living in Kabul is not that dangerous as it may seem on TV. I feel pressure of being in Islamic country rather then Talibani's.”

She went to add “I am the first female to be approved by the central bank of afghanistan (RBI for this country), that's an achievement by it self. Its realy good to get such mails from old colleagues. Thanxs a lot & take care”

I really felt happy for her but something just dint seem right somewhere . And now, a couple of months later I read that ‘Kabul Bank’ the largest of Afghanistan’s 10 private bank is tethering on the verge of failure. The bank’s chairman & CEO - its 2 biggest shareholders have siphoned of millions of dollars in sometimes-clandestine loans to themselves and afghan govt insiders. The Bank also is alleged to have used one of afghanistan’s traditional money transfer outfit (hawala types) to move hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country to avoid detection.

Imagine the plight of a ‘chief finance officer’ in such a Bank. I am certainly hoping that she not only watches her back on the streets but also on her new job.

September 4, 2010

A Kulfi & the Mast Kalandar act

Kulfi – the creamy essence of a slow cooked milk that comes in assorted flavours is one of my favourite for a dessert whenever I am in Delhi. And the ones that come in sticks (as opposed to the one in Matka) always bring me the memories of Mainu’s irresistible Kulfis (the vendor who was regular outside St.Mary’s school in Belgaum). So recently when we decided to check in for some desserts at Mast Kalandar on Wifi’s birthday outing I was in for a jolt.

Located near the traffic junction of the Kormanagala indoor stadium, this was my first visit to this joint and going by the instore branding & visual display’s I was quite convinced that this must be an authentic north indian joint. We had already finished dinner at the Forum Mall food court and going by the impression of its North Indian authenticity I ordered for some Kulfi & Rabdees. In Delhi I have tasted some authentic & mind blowing Kulfi’s at some of the Kiosks dotting the upmarkets Malls in Delhi & Gurgaon. A visit to the original Kuremal Mahavir Prasad Kulfiwale in Chawri Bazaar Delhi-6 has not materialized though.

Coming to this Mast Kalandar kulfi we were in for a surprise when it came in the form of a ravishing Badam milk in a matka. After 2 sips I was convinced something was amiss & summoned the restaurant manager. “Excuse me, I think we ordered for a Kulfi, is this is how you make Kulfi” I said as I took a spoonful and poured back into the Matka. The guy apologized saying there may be some problem with the freezer. He hurriedly took back the small pot and made a ‘Mast Kalandar’ act. He disappeared into the Kitchen never to appear again. A while later a waiter came back with the replacement pot but the poor thing was frozen rock hard in the cryogenic blast it had gone through. The absence of the manager made us realize that his freezer was vacillating between 2 extremes and he was quite embarrassed to face us. We quietly had it parceled and dipped into it almost an hour later in the confines of our house.

August 28, 2010

Bisale calling

My journey began after a good night’s rest at the colonial Munzerabad club in the verdant hills surrounded city of Sakleshpur. It is said that the British were quite fond of this place & took to it for its scenic beauty and Hilly terrain for tea cultivation while spending pastime in Hunting and other activities. The club still retains the colonial flavor and the numerous animal trophies and the group photos of Englishmen assembled here are mute testimony to its past.

Earlier that morning, Patil emerged from the fog & mist covered roads of Sakleshpur to join me on the trip. Patil a veteran forest official of the lower clerical rung had put in more than 25 years in the forest dept and for the last few years was posted at Hassan. Like any good forest official he knew the topography well and could roll out amazing facts & figures of all the surrounding forests effortlessly.

It was work related matter that had brought me to Sakleshpur, a 5 hour drive from Bangalore. The trip so far had been a pleasurable one, the route (NH48) wound its way through picturesque Malnad region. A brief stopover at Hassan where I had a meeting with the Forest officials is when I first met Patil. During our luncheon conversation he convinced me to make good this visit with a trip to Bisale forest.

Munzerabad club boasts of more than a century old History. It was established in 1893 by one Englishman by name Middleton, a coffee planter from Ceylon who came seeking fortune and adventure to the jungles of Malnad. It is said that an officer of the East India Co brought him to these virgin ghats here and told him to take the jungle from this hill to that, and from that hill there to this hill here for no tax at all, but to remit quarter of the earnings to the government.

True to its colonial character, one can find several Horn-bearing skulls of wild game that these planters indulged during their leisure time here. The club log book bears such names as Crawford, Radcliffe, Young, Middleton (junior) and mundane details like missing cutlery, the minimum whiskey that should be stocked, and such earthly matters of it’s hey days.

After refueling at the only petrol bunk in this hill town we drove down the winding roads and not long before the city could slip by we approached the fort of Tipu sultan facing the imposing Western Ghats. A trip atop the fort requires climbing about 100 stairs but the effort is well rewarded with some of the most scenic panoramic views of the western Ghats. The fort stood as if in brazen defiance of Mother Nature whose writ runs large and wide in these western Ghats .


Our route to Bisale forest made its way through a narrow stretch of tarred road that progressively got worse after several twists & turns running through isolated hamlets in the undulating hills. Buoyed by the onset of Monsoon, several small waterfalls along the way had come to life. Try as I might to soak in the beauty of the surrounding nature but for Patil’s incessant chatter distracted me to no small extent.

One of his stories unfolded in these very thick Jungles. Three software engineers from Bangalore decide to go on a trek here, apparently without the knowledge of the local forest authorities. Soon they lost their way in the Hills and went missing for several months. Only to be found accidentally one day by a forest watcher on a reconnaissance trip in the Jungles. Their remains in a skeletal state , identified by a gold locket that was still hanging from one of the bodies . Such is the thickness of these Forests where even the forest officials carefully tread.

We slowly made progress on our way to what patil kept describing as the ‘Beauty Spot’. The car by now tilted and swayed like a ship in stormy sea waters making its way through gaping craters on the road. The incessant rains in these western ghats had taken its toll on the tarred roads and after a while it was quite apparent that the stones & gravel were all left of it.

Deep in the forest where it is difficult to find road posts or signs and with the path challenging you every mile we finally came to a spot which overlooked a steep valley. The forest department had managed to put a large board at the entrance that described the flora & fauna of the surrounding area. As I entered the fenced area , I realized that the dept had taken efforts to make it a picnic spot with seating arrangements and a nice observatory perched on the steep slope overlooking the valley.

Sir it is a picturesque deep river valley and offers rich hilly forest terrain view from this point . The breathtaking valleys, regal looking meandering river and the splendid scenic beauty of the thick Bisale forest make it an awesome experience” patil had mentioned while drawing my interest to this spot.

But after an arduous trip all we got to see was a thick white blanket of mist surrounding the valley from this vantage point . All we could hear was the quite murmur of the Kumaradhara river flowing down the valley. We hung around there for a while & started back disappointed; none of us had imagined that the mist would have played spoilsport on a such a lovely rain drenched day.

facebook.com/AmbiPurIndia

August 20, 2010

Of white Ass, Striped suits & Business etiquettes

You have heard of the proverbial white elephant but another of its ilk (very close in the animal kingdom) with similar characteristics greeted me and Sreehari (my colleague who took this picture precariously perched on his motorcycle with amused onlookers) during lunch hour in one of the by lanes of Malleshwaram recently. Resplendently white, this donkey made me ponder about the injustice that English language has done by ignoring it to the idiomatic pedestal that has been reserved for Elephas maximus. If the Greeks could associate this animal with Dionysus, the god of wine, the English could have done it better is my argument.

White elephant is described for “something that is large and unwieldy and is either a nuisance or expensive to keep up”. Its etymology is traced to the King of Siam's (Thailand where they are found) who had this reputed practice of awarding a white elephant to a courtier who had fallen out of favor. A white elephant was considered sacred and couldn't be put to work, so the upkeep of the animal would ruin its owner.

So if a white elephant was no more than an expensive burden but what would be its equivalent for a white Ass? I pondered. Here is a well known hard working beast that is commonly used for transport whether riding, pack transport, pulling carts or for farm tillage, threshing, raising water, milling, and other jobs- would be unfair to find a similar analogy as that of white elephant. So I try to find an equivalent in the world of cubiclenama (for starters this is a word used by Sidin Vadakut for a column in Mint, he describes it as a place “to look at the pleasures and perils of the workplace”). And and it turns out to be a typical CEO turned evangelist who could be best described as follows.

This once upon a time CEO puffs up at every given opportunity to put his outdated corporate karmic history on record. Even if his current role is far removed from it. This guy doesn’t realise his that his current situation is akin to that of an aging Bollywood Heroine who has fallen out of favour with the producers. He desperately tries to cling to the spotlight by ‘buying’ news space as the purveyor of his current pet theme (addressing Industry minnows as angel incarnate), on other lean days he cries for attention with his incessant twitter posted on LinkedIn. It is a different matter that his past corporate profile is a cruel anathema to the segment he now swears by ( a bit like Rambo acting now as Baba Ramdev). His photo is Darth Vader school of facial expression personified that almost says “ Hey,been there done that “ types. But people who have worked with him know that this countenance is one side of it , the other side is ghoulishly scary one when in foul mood- he is infant terrible tearing up everything that the subordinates came up with and stomping up & down on the shreds. On other similar days he would relentlessly clamor for the life of an employee who did not comply with his whims & fancies.

Such is this “Dr.Jekyll–now-Dr.Hardy-later” honcho, but ignoring all this I tried to introduce him to someone I thought was complimenting his Business proposition & was mutually beneficial as a Business contact. But for reasons I am yet to fathom, this jacko doesn't even bother to respond. As though I stood to gain from it! The person I was introducing runs a Software company in Bangalore that offers innovative IT products & offerings on a service model for small companies.

In another instance, a Sr level candidate and ex-colleague I had referred met him at some place in Mumbai. But this twiddle-dee striped suit was so engrossed with his Blackberry throughout the interview period that he rarely made eye contact with this candidate or showed basic courtesies in a face-to-face meeting. This irritated candidate later told me that he came out of a meeting with a Blackberry device!

So Mr.Fancy CEO turned god-knows-what , here is the epithet that goes to you for proving what it takes to be a white Ass .

August 14, 2010

Bus- de’


Friends are showing off their brand new cars on Facebook & Orkut, and egging them are Banks that put hoardings asking them to ‘drive their dreams’. It is another commonly known fact that more than 75% of these cars on the roads are on borrowed money (read loans) i.,e these dreams are valid till the next monthly installment gets paid. Yet as more people pour on to the streets with their new fancy cars ,my immediate reaction is not to say ‘bus kar’ but say ‘Bus-de’.

The other day Montek Singh made this point poignantly clear while speaking to Karan Thapar on Devils advocate. He said one of the underlying objectives of the recent fuel hike was to nudge people to adopt to public transport. I guess he & others in the planning commission were taking note of the fact that there has been a sharp spurt in privately owned vehicles in India (it has increased from 6.8 million in 2003-04 to 12 million in 2009-10).

On the roads the signs of these strains are already clearly visible; increasing commuting times, diminishing parking spaces but more importantly ,as a local newspaper highlighted increasing stress in driving. Bangalore Mirror, the local newspaper had a cover story recently that struck immediate chord with me . It showed how randomly selected drivers, with sensors & biomedical readers attached to their bodies showed a spike in their BP levels as they drove through dense traffic areas in the city.

Urban public transport in metros like Bangalore has certainly gone up several notches with the introduction of modern efficient buses. Bangalore may not have a bus rapid transport system (BRTS) like Delhi or Ahmadabad but I certainly find no dearth of good Buses that drop me to the office & back. And for precisely for the reason the newspaper reported I have increasingly taken to BMTC. I know it may not completely remove the car out of the equation but as long as I find a Volvo picking me up & dropping me in close proximity to Home and office I see very many good reasons to adopt with regular frequency.

So Montek may be formulating fuel price policies but it is BMTC and their efficient facilities that has been a clincher. So try out this concept of Bus day & see how much of a difference it makes to diffuse stress levels. You could also making a big difference not only to the city but to your lifestyle as well.

August 4, 2010

Twitternama

The universe does not revolve around us, what happened if it did ? To get an approximate idea watch the movie ‘The Truman show’ . Can it be real that an unwitting man’s entire life has been a TV reality show ? May be not in real life but with Twitter we are getting close. And unlike the plot in Truman show the exact opposite might be happening here (i.e, people constantly projecting their lives to outside world). The other notable difference being that it is a web reality show instead of a TV reality show.

I am seeing certain ‘Twitter’ obsessed people constantly updating their status – about being struck in traffic jam, about seeing some picture or meeting somebody, traveling, about some temple , some song in their mind, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know whether to call it twittering or incessant crowing but they are certainly projecting a minute by minute account of their lives to this web reality show.

Coming back to the movie, it finally explores the theme ‘whether a person can be a pawn in some grand experiment or a prisoner in an alien world than it is to anything in our current "reality TV" obsessed culture’. Going by the current Hollywood themes like ‘inception’ it certainly could be in the world of Twitter.

July 24, 2010

A Judge & the Mafioso

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself, and is certainly repeating itself in more ways than one in the battle of Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde crusade against illegal mining in Karnataka. A lot has been written about this case but I wonder why no one has drawn parallels to the past. The history i am referring to is the one in the past when the baton ultimately passed on to a crusader judge to take on the might of the organized mafia. The battle grounds were drawn in different countries at different points in time i.e,, Italy, Colombia and now India but the protagonists in the battle bear striking similarity . On the face of it looks like a simple story of the good vs evil, honesty vs corruption and David vs Goliaths but what romanticizes these stories is the underlying currents of Heroism, a one man’s fight carried on when the system has lost it, a fight of a righteous one man against the power of money & influence. Justice SK Hegde in my opinion stands in the same pantheon as Alfonso Valdivieso & Giovanni falcone.

Falcone, the antimafia judge was nothing less than a folk hero in Rome during the 1980’s. He was instrumental in reigning the Sicilian mafia (also known as Cosa nostra) who for years had let a reign of terror by extortion & murder. This mafia legitimised itself through various business activities by controlling public & private contracts (at an estimated 6.5 Bn euro then) while they did undercover drug & arms trafficking. Not into active politics but they had law officials & police officers on their payrolls. Falcone systematically tried dismantling the mafia by a sustained campaign despite being a lone crusader. The political establishment having much to hide did not support him but despite languishing government support, Falcone and his staff continued their work in the anti-Mafia pool headquartered in Rome. Before Falcone's efforts, little progress had been made in prosecuting Sicilian Mafiosi who moved about in the United States, particularly in the New York area, without being traced by Italian authorities or identified by American ones. His efforts were cut short when the Mafiosi murdered him by blowing up his car on the way to the airport.

Lets cut the scene to Colombia where Prosecutor General Valdivieso had set himself the goal of separating Colombia's political elite from its murderous friendships and entanglements with drug mafia. The Cali Cartel, whose brief roots began in trafficking marijuana had shifted to cocaine due to its ease of transporting and greater profit margin. By the mid 1990's the trafficking empire of the Cali Cartel was a multi-billion dollar enterprise, In order to launder the incoming money of the trafficking operations, the Cali cartel heavily invested its funds into legitimate business ventures as well as front companies to mask the money through. The cartel also invested this money to gain influence within the government through bribes and favors.

Valdivieso had a role model in his uncle Galan who throughout the 1980s, as the drug cartels flourished and the killings escalated, pressed his attacks on the corruption of his political class. By the time Galan ran for the presidency in 1989, he had become a serious threat to the mafia's encroaching grip on the Colombian political establishment. Galán was murdered on the campaign trail in order allegedly to clear the path to the Presidential Palace for more pliable men who would cut deals, not fight. Alfonso Valdivieso, who hung Galán's portrait on his walls, undertook investigation of the links between the Cali cartel and the election campaign of the President Ernesto Samper that triggered the gravest political crisis in Colombian history. He ensured that by May, 1996, one government minister and the Attorney General were behind bars. The Minister of the Interior, the Foreign Secretary, and the Minister of Communications were charged with complicity in the cover-up of drug- mafia contributions to the Samper campaign. Eight Congress members were also arrested, while a further 170 out of a total of 230 came under investigation for drug corruption. Samper was given a temporary reprieve in May with the decision of a congressional commission to exonerate him of drug-corruption charges. Yet he found himself disgraced and lost power.

The moral (or the lack of it) in these stories that I see is that

a. First the mafia strikes it rich be it Drugs, Arms or Mining.
b. Then they try to legitimise their business, in the process they buy the political & bureaucratic classes with their riches
c. Then they make a dash at power , which they try to control mostly through proxy
d. Finally it takes one man, usually a judge to foil their efforts.

July 18, 2010

A Citi that Slips

Have you ever gone through an ordeal with the customer service dept in your bank? Chances are that 9 out of 10 you would. Can you pls describe how the experience has been? Chances that you felt like tearing your hair out or yelping at the other side would have been equally bright. And a thought that some pea brained official sitting in a cosy corner cubicle in some part of the country formulates the bank rules and in another you have a ill trained fresh- on- the- job executive sitting in the call center and reading out the rules like some kind of sermon in a Sunday mass that the customer is customarily obligated to. While the disconnect is complete , all in the name of Customer (kasht se mar) Service.

For a while I had been under the impression that Citibank was the better of the lot when it came to Internet Banking. The user interfaces were friendly and the features less cumbersome as compared to ICICI Bank & HDFC Bank (in my firsthand experience). But that was until recently. Last week I attempted to register a new payee in my account to effect some electronic fund transfer. After keying in the mandatory beneficiary details in the ‘Add new beneficiary’ section , the bank automatically sent a OAC (online authorization code) to my mobile number. The ensuing page gave me two options 1. Authorize payee now 2. Authorize payee later. As I did not get the SMS (OAS) immdtly I opted for option 2 (i.e, Authorize payee later). A good 5-7 minutes later I received the SMS but by then the webpage has expired and relogging into the account I see that the payee was not in the pending list (i.e, registered payee list). So I go through the whole rigmarole again to find in the same spot in the beginning.

Then comes the dial ordeal. I dial the call center and go through all the number pressing options, first dial the account #, then the Pin#, then listen to your automated account balance and then press 9 to finally go to a call center executive. Here once again you through the online verification and after another good 5 minutes of explanation, the executive says ‘as a part of our new security procedures’ the authorization option is valid only for a few minutes on the Account page. That means if there is a time delay in my receiving the OAC then the whole exercise is as good as a walk in the Garden. I protested that I did not get the OAC immdtly on 2 occasions and therefore had to opt for option 2 (i.e, Authorize payee later). The call center executive nonchalantly says ‘then you have to call the mobile service provider’ as the problem is at their end. But then why the ‘Authorize payee later’ option I ask? The reply harks back to square one ‘Sir as a part of the new security .....’

I throw up my hands in despair.

July 10, 2010

Growing up in the 80s

Inspired by a mail that my friend Kiran Bagade sent recently I have made my list of what it was like growing up in the 80s. Life was much simpler then and there were a lot of things one easily identified with, I am sure everybody would have their own fav list

• Going to school meant either taking a ride in dad’s Vespa scooter or Fiat (1100D) Car or being left by the servant in an atlas cycle. There was no such thing called school vans or private operators.

• There was no such thing called traffic signals or traffic jams , schools usually operated from early morning to early evenings

• Calling somebody outside your town meant logging a trunk call and waiting for the call back ring from the operator who most of the times sounded more animate than the voice overs today

• Thumsup,Torino or Goldspot was the usually preferred drink available in the market, these came in thick bottles and usually had a ring of yellow or red at the openings when the caps were opened

• Coming from school at the end of the day, one had to usually wash the hands thoroughly covered with ink stains from leaking ink pens

• Following a Cricket Test match during school meant running to the canteen radio or the nearby class during recess to crowd around the guy carrying a pocket transistor

• The West Indies cricket team were ruling the roost, thay had a halo around for their super fast bowlers & for batsman like Clive llyod, Haynes & Greenidge who almost seemed to play endlessly & never get out

• 7 p.m meant Krishi Darshan on Television, followed by Jan Hai Jahan Hai at 7:30 p.m. 8 pm meant Chitrahaar or Living planet on week days.

• You religiously followed Lajjoji, lallu & Bhadki in Humlog on weekdays . Other days you followed Khandaan , Nukkad, Byomkesh Bakshi et al.,

• Sundays meant a half day of running serials on Doordarshan: 7-8 am slot was for Keertans followed by children serial between 8-9am, 9 -12 was reserved for family drama serials that included Rajni , Wagle ki Duniya etc

• The ads that accompanied the serials were :Vicks, Nirma, Bajaj, Colgate,Sylvania Laxman,Dunlop, Btex, Topaz, Surf et al.,

• Sunday afternoon meant boring regional films that usually were depressing art movies assisted by subtitles. Followed by ‘Vikram aur Betaal’ in the early evenings.

• News were read by serious commentators behind a flat blue background with Doordarshan logo on the upper right corner of TV. The video clippings sometimes used to get mixed up or audio not forthcoming but it spared us of discussion and opinion mongering by panelists.

• You did not get to hear of Terrorism or Global warming on the News. ‘The world this week’ captured themes like Cold war, Iran-Iraq conflict etc. Kashmir dint make any news on the national front and BJP was still a babes in the wood.

• Telecast could suddenly go blank followed by ‘Rukawat ke liya Khed hai’ message.

• One could get pirated new films on VCRs (an oversized version of magnetic audio tapes) whose distinguishing feature was crackling noises, images that seemed stretched in the middle or edges, color bands and running advertising titles at the bottom.

July 4, 2010

A hundred of sorts

Thanks for putting up with me all these while (yawn), 2 years todate and on the 100th blogpost I stand. As I sit back & recollect how it all began I cant help but chuckle. One fine evening, as the sun light faded over what seemed to be a place straight out of a text book: where well manicured lawns spread out a green blanket over blocks of buildings , on the sidelines an occasional electric cart would quietly make its way around people cycling idly , at another corner a few played basket ball with the enthusiasm of young adults while others hung around cafeterias. Within the serene buildings however, as the servers hummed, code jockeys worked feverishly on the keyboards to meet schedules that spanned various time zones for clients spread across the Atlantic. But myself and Shaz found ourselves on the micro mini Golf lawns where he was demonstrating his ‘tee’ing skills and I was following him as a serious apprentice. Somewhere during the conversation a topic started hovering around something that was posted on the Infy dashboard (Sparsh) where techies regularly vented their ire’s & opinions. This discussion led to Blogging and Shaz suggested that I create an account for myself on Blogger. I nodded and we moved on. I had forgotten this altogether but a few weeks later Shaz took the initiative upon himself and mailed me the coordinates.

He had created a blog template for me with a generous title that read “I was Brendons double once’. I don’t know how close I came to resembling the Hollywood star but Shaz firmly believed that I was pretty near. And that prompted him the title which I guess had made an impact. I had some followers & generous comments on an empty Blog piece for a couple of years by people who believed that I was indeed the body double of the star!

It took a good couple of years to come out of my inertia and write my first article. I wrote my first article about how some people showcase fiduciary management teams of high flying names to further their Business cause. I likened them to designers flaunting exotic looking clothes on the ramps that having little or no practical value. Thereafter I have tried writing on varied topics and thanks to the encouragement of my friends & peers it has become a favorite pastime.

June 26, 2010

What’s with this yellow metal I say?

Its in the air, on the airwaves,buried in print, making News, across Hoardings ....its practically everywhere and its lucre seems inescapable. And like MacKenna & Co’s rush to gold in the Hollywood classic, Bangaloreans made a dash to the Gold shops in town on Akshaya Tritiya day recently. Adding to the hysteria was a sustained advertisement campaign by a local prominent jewelery export house that had just forayed into gold retailing. This guy went hammer & tongs in the media about his ‘no making charges’ scheme with elaborate explanations that appeared like one of those advertorials carried out by ministry of information & broadcasting . Before I could find some sensible echoes in the grey hills to this phenomenon, Wifi had coolly exchanged her pair of gold earrings to a new pair at a local gold shop in Udipi. Her mom in tow and the obvious enamor created by the local jewelery shop led her to an irresistible offer to exchange gold ‘just’ at the cost of making charges and the extra wee bits of ounces that went into the new one.

Meanwhile as I commute to work every day all the marketing blitzkrieg about this madness seems to be misdirected at this hapless soul. But i do soak in the proverbial gold dust that is thrown by the hoardings along the way, almost 1/3rd of which I believe relate to Gold & Jewelery. As I pass through atleast 1-2 traffic junctions everyday, I am greeted by luscious looking damsels on hoardings extolling one or the other brand of very fine ornate gold n jewellery. One recent hoarding reminded me of Rajiv Gandhi’s message to the Pakis in the mid 80s (Unko unki Naani yaad dila deenge types). This hoarding by Canara Robeco reminded me about my naani and urged me to invest like her perhaps, the ad is about a new fund by Canara Robeco that encourages investors to invest like one's grandmother would. It shows a grandmotherly lady resplendently decked up with gold necklaces. While on another recent day ‘Madhavan’ (the film actor) passed by me with a benign smile & folded hands inviting me to the house of Alukkas (a gold retailer from kerala who set shop in Blr recently), he was of course plastered across a large Van which served as a mobile bill board . This Van incidentally overtook me on the busy Sampige road (Malleswaram) , which as you enter is lined with many Gold shops (popularly called gold palaces) reminding one what it would like entering Kubera’s den.

All this and like many in US (which goes from one bust and bailout to the next), I have now come to think, that only ‘Gold , God & Guns’ can save us from imminent economic recession, depression or collapse.

June 20, 2010

Second Rx your doctor’s opinion

Richard Branson is known as a pugnacious ‘ Live life King Size’ type of character, he also writes like one. A recent article by Richard Branson in Mint was interesting as well enlightening, though he wrote on a management topic, he used his personal experience to relate to a theme in the article.

Here branson narrates how he came out of a ligament tear condition while ‘playfully swinging a young girl around’ (now one can make his own deduction of this statement given Branson’s colourful life). However following the right exercise regimen (given to him by the physiotherapist of the English soccer team) he claims to being fit as ‘fiddle’ in 3 weeks flat. In the process he says he discounted two opinions given by two different ‘surgeons’ (definitely of repute & costly by Branson’s standard) suggesting a elaborate treatment including a painful operation.

This brings me to the point of this article. How many times have you been to a doctor and came back with a feeling of being fleeced? How many had an occasion to feel unduly alarmed by the prescription and the course of treatment recommended for an ailment? Branson may be obliquely referring to the fact that Allopathic Medical profession world over is suffering from a kind of blinkered approach to treating ailments. But is there a case of larger commercial interest hidden behind the elaborate rituals of diagnosis & treatment?

Take my case, I went to consult a gastro specialist at the Manipal Hospital to find a cure for a stomach pain that had been nagging me for a while, earlier this year. I narrated the symptoms ; slight burning sensation accompanied by occasional spasms on the upper portion of my stomach to a specialist there. The guy made a cursory check & asked me to come the next day for a Gastric endoscopy and wrote an elaborate ritual consisting of various pathological tests that preceded this exercise. He said that the endoscopy was necessary as he suspected of ‘Ulcers’ and that samples of the stomach lining would be needed for analysis.

Alarmed I decided to take a second opinion & went to ayurvedic doctor suggested by my friend Athavale. This doctor (Dr.Purander) dismissed all the alarmist prescription I was given earlier and said it was nothing more than a normal stomach upset. He gave me a kind of powder that cured my problem in 3 days flat! And that too at a fraction of a cost that I would have spent at the so called leading Hospital in Bangalore.

What was the difference? simply the absence of medical paraphernalia coupled with correct diagnosis and simple effective treatment. This goes to universally prove what the Rand Health Insurance project found in the US- that going to specialist doctors or fancy hospitals makes no more or less difference in health than non- fee- for- service Health maintenance Organizations (HMO). The only difference however was in the costs (& in a large measure).

June 9, 2010

Art Buch’wall’d

The other day I ran into a friend at a shopping mall. An ex-colleague we had not met each other in a long while. We recollected the good old days when we used to hangout for a beer at an old heritage building near Richmond circle that now stand demolished to make way for some large complex.

During the conversation he said that he followed me on my blog and maybe to give credence to that thought said how much he liked by son’s drawing that I had posted in one of the blogposts. “ I cant post any more of his artwork “ I apologized ....“ Its all on our walls at home” I sighed. He laughed and said it was a good time he visited home to catch more works of this art Buchwalld.

June 2, 2010

Can spurious parts beat the Original?

Scientists of the world might have gone utterly starry eyed about conquering biological life process last week. Its as if some one just found out a way or the elusive ‘key’ to start a machine called Biological life form. Scientists at J Craig Venter institute manipulated a primordial living cell to act in a normal way by inserting a synthesized DNA and what they did seems a natural progression from the time humans mapped the entire genome sequence across various life forms. Echoes of the Grey Hills begs to ask; Have they captured the holy grail of life science? And what are the ramifications?

Cut the scene to Steven Spielberg and his Sci-fi movies Jurrasic Park & its sequel lost world. In these films spielberg very creatively explained the horrible consequences when man plays God & tries to manage His creations. I particularly like the scene in the movie Jurrasic Park where Hammond , the CEO of InGen (Company that creates the biological reserve) proudly showcases InGen's advances in genetic engineering and shows his guests through the island's vast array of automated systems. In this scene he narrates the Chaos theory which frighteningly comes true as the film plot unfolds. Cant that happen in real life too?

At the scale of this achievement, it may yet look ameoba’isque i.e., manipulations at the level of simple bacterial cells. But can the experiment be repeated across larger forms like Tissues and Organs that are larger clusters forms of cells and particularly so in higher life forms? If the answer is YES , it will not be far when a synthetically manufactured organ would be implanted in a living form by manipulating other factors like biological acceptance without loss of form, feature and performance. Or is it?

Maybe a recent advt by Maruti on spurious spare parts probably drives home this point

May 24, 2010

A disaster waiting in the wings

It was 1999 - 2000 and I was posted in mangalore with a pvt sector bank. The bank had made initial forays into the personal finance business and I was heading the area’s business & credit function . A probable reason that i found myself frequenting to Mumbai, a period in which I must have taken about 40 flights in and out of Mangalore. Located on top of a Hill surrounded by the greenery of the western Ghats, Bajpe airport is picturesque as well as unnerving.

Every time i walked on the tarmac towards the plane, the sight of this airstrip made my heart skip a beat, you could only see the distant horizon at the end of the runway. And the whole world now knows that its a table top airstrip that contributed in a large part to the disaster that unfolded last week. 


Anxiety levels were usually high every time the plane landed or took off.  Imagine 15-20 seconds into the flight and WHAM! the ground beneath has disappeared and you are hovering above the MRPL refineries. But that's a routine experience one gets used to and to my good fortune and luck nothing serious happened except for one untoward incident in this period.

This particular (and eventful flight) happened by accident, I was to take a Indian Airlines flight to mangalore but missed the flight as the cab driver unwittingly dropped me at the mumbai international terminal. You ought to specifically tell the cab/auto fellows in Mumbai, otherwise they automatically drop you at the Int'l airport which incidentally is on a farther side if you traveling from South Bombay. So by the time I had finished my fracas with the cab guy and managed to land at the domestic terminal, the flight had taken off.

I went to the airlines office and explained them my plight, a very discerning official went out of the way and converted that ticket to a seat in ‘Alliance Air’ which was supposed to board that noon. I thanked him profusely little realizing that this was anyway a cheaper airline and a part of the Indian airlines network to service goddamned places in the country . The Alliance fleet contained all used and discarded aging planes from the alliance fleet in US and generally used as feeder airline in India . The interiors of this plane & its service were equally appalling, could even put a state road transport services to shame.

This was an almost empty flight and I was seated about two rows behind the fuselage (center). The flight mercifully took off on time and the inflight magazine (it was provided then) helped me take my mind off the dreary condition of the plane and its inflight experience. 


As the pilot made his announcement and the plane started to descent towards mangalore, the peculiarity of this airport combined with the impression of this flight heightened by anxiety levels. I had my heart in my mouth when the plane landed with a resounding THUD and it was so forceful that all the empty seats behind me folded up like reclining chairs (those chairs were very different what you see now-a-days). I immediately bent forward bracing for some kind of impact which thankfully dint happen. I guess the pilot panicked and force landed this plane when it might have overshot the touching down point on this 8000 feet runway. And unlike the ill fated IX 812 it some how managed to pull back from the precipice.

The location of mangalore’s Bajpe airport,  locals say was more because of political expediency than other factors. The local politician and; his clout ensured that the airport that was originally earmarked in Mulki/Padubidri (a town 27 Kms from Mangalore) was shifted to this plateau. And everybody thereafter just prayed that such an incident never happened.

My condolences and prayers for the bereaved.

May 21, 2010

Can I have an extra serving of these lovely balls?

Grey has never been so appealing while eating. People who gulp down small nuggets of these with mutton Curry or with Soppina Saaru (
leafy vegetables curry) swear by its taste. It may look like an awkward blob sitting like a mini boulder in the middle of a Thali but down here in Bangalore, its a standard staple. I am talking of Ragi ‘Balls’(no misplaced swear word but that which describes anything spherical or circular in shape) that is a staple diet in many of the old styled eateries in Bangalore and surrounding region.

Go to any of the downtown ‘Military’ Hotels if you are the types intent on exploring tasty food mindless of the ambiance and you will find this staple as regular as the ‘barood’ in military barracks. Why the word ‘Military’ is associated with these hotels is something that still beats me, there is noting remotely connected with the green beret though. In many cases the word is spelt as ‘Miltry’ just like the local neighborhood pull cart guy claiming his specialty on ‘Chinase’ . The vague explanation I get to hear is that the word signifies to what is generally called ‘going Dutch’ in English.

Coming to the brass-tacks that is the eating part, a word of caution though. If you are the type new to this ‘food gulping business’, a bit of practice or mental preparation is needed before you take the plunge. The subconscious mind orders the Premolars to masticate but you are attempting to send it down the oesophagus like a ball rolling down the bowling alley. And you hope it succeeds as the ball of ragi is sufficiently lubricated in the accompanying gravy (soppina saaru or Mutton curry as the case may be). If there is a mixup of voluntary & involuntary muscular actions , as may happen often for the faint hearted, then the experience is similar to a paper stuck in a printer jam.

Nonetheless it is worth an effort , and what would you tell the waiter if you pass the test in flying colors and repeat the feat ?

May 15, 2010

Maverick

The Brazilian way of life is well known, and its very thought brings in images of samba dances, colorful & lively carnivals and the yellow jerseys symphonising with the white ball on the football field. So a book on a relatively unknown company called ‘Semco’ and its unusal workplace would rather stick out like a odd man out in this common perception of this part of the world. And Ricardo Semler makes a valiant effort to change the perception through this book- ‘Maverick : The success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace’.

Its very unusual to hear of companies that allows its employees to set the rules of engagement at the workplace. And it will sound almost weird if a company does not have any reception desk, follows no standard policies, and a worker decides how much to work; when and where all determined by his discretion and also practically has a say in every aspect of its functioning. But that’s how Semco is and Ricardo Semler , its promoter & chief decodes its success story in this book.

‘A company where traditional corporate dogma was being discarded and unpredictability was a way of life’ says Semler in chapter 13 of the book and that pretty much sums it up. It all begins with Semler taking over the reins of the company from his father and his effort to address the moribund company . He says ‘ there was a lifelessness , a lack of enthusiasm, a malaise at Semco that i had to change ’. So he sets out with a change agenda and what does he do? He strips away all the ‘managerial mumbo jumbo’ and brings in a culture where business is done in a simpler way, a more natural way. A company with a philososphy akin to socialism , in the old eastern European sense; Nonsenseskaya.

A very readable book for someone interested in understanding how the nuts & bolts of running a business could be rearranged and yet successfully managed by dumping the Peters, Porters and Kanters, of the traditional business world.

May 12, 2010

T20, Caribbean, and Dhoni & Co’s Swansong

The Caribbean world T20 world cup campaign ending in a whimper , the Indian cricket team will be back in India soon doing what it does best – brand endorsements and commercials! So when someone asked the Indian cricketers the reason for the debacle, each of them answered in their own characteristic style (I suspect much of it had to do with their endorsement scripts)

M S Dhoni – See.... I told my guys to keep cool (like Orient PSPO fans) but they lost it at crucial times, what can I do? i also tried telling my opposition bowlers “Eh! Yemm Yesss Dhooooni from Chennaiii. All you fast bowlers, I have the bat, do you have the ball... Mind it!” but they dint mind knocking off my bails.

Yuvarj Singh – People said I was not fit and in shape but thats crap....you see I take ‘Revital’ every day and do the treadmill, if you don’t believe me ? you can check my advts!

Ravindra Jadeja – Everybody believed that my form & performance had sunk but the captain had faith in me & we all sank together....because we all believe ‘My Pepsi My way’.....

Yusuf Pathan – I did not hear the captains call for the catch (crucial dropped catch of Chris Gayle in the west Indies match that tanked India) b’coz i said to myself ‘Suno dil ki Awaz’(listen to your heart – Vodafone pre paid calling card)

Coach Gary Kirsten – I gave them plenty of ‘Boost’ in the dressing room but there was no energy (after the IPL)

And finally with all the cricket over, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s teammates wonder if they can organize a trip at short notice. Dhoni manages all the information on Aircel, and they’re set. Suresh Raina wonders if he’s made it to the team. Aircel again comes to the rescue; Dhoni finds out he has and he will be leading the team to Zimbabwe . The Advt tag line: It’s time to move on (for Dhoni).

May 8, 2010

The Ambani Saga continues...

The supreme court made its verdict in the Ambani Gas dispute yesterday. It was no ordinary dispute but the kind of media attention it got was amazing. No other corporate group would even come close to the kind of drama that was played out. The 2 dramatis personae of this saga, Mukesh & Anil have been at each others throats for a long time,and the family story has been the kind of stuff or rather fluff that the Bollywood mills churn out regularly. There is this patriarch (Dhirubhai) who starts out as a petrol bunk attendant but goes on to successfully flourish in the license raj era and create an industrial empire with his typical Gujju way of working around obstacles . He excels in the art of covert operations and wherever possible uses the cloak & dagger technique to hit out at competitors. But then the father never expected that the same techniques would be used by his 2 sons against each other.

The supreme court episode has been one of the important turning point of this drama (power struggle) that probably began after Dhirubhais death in July 2002. The father died telling the world “ My sons are never going to fight over family assets. They’ll always be together”. He probably underestimated that the 2 brothers (with a 2 year gap between them) were poles apart right from their childhood and deeply distrusted each other. So when he went ahead & made Mukesh the vice chairman, Anil raised the hackles because he felt Mukesh was treating the Reliance group like his personal fiefdom and alienating him from the decision making process. On the other hand Mukesh saw his younger brother as a non serious businessman; one who had time to go to parties, rub shoulders with politicians and middlemen and move around with celebrities.

However somewhere down the line Mukesh seemed to have made his mark especially by commissioning the Jamnagar petrochemical plan (which was touted as one of the world’s largest and most complex project) and claimed his father’s legacy from the Investors and the Business world. That has only fuelled Anils ambition & his angst to outdo him . And the ensuing war , in the truest of Ambani tradition, has been fierce , murky and no holds barred. The 2 brothers have hurled mud at each other that is still stuck, they have ripped each other’s credibility as entrepreneurs, they exposed the unprofessional manner in which each ran his companies, they exposed the alleged dishonesty of senior most managers in the group. All this & probably it’s still not over , like Shahrukh khan In Om Shanti Om Anil might be still saying “ Abhi Kahani baki hai, mere dost”.

P.S: I Recommend the book ‘Storms in the Sea Wind’ by Alam Srinivas for readers interested in the blow-by-blow account of the war between Mukesh & Anil.

May 1, 2010

Joy Gurudev

The beleaguered Swami Nithyananda got arrested at the Bangalore International airport last week and was jeered by the crowd gathered there. Maybe the swami from Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu could have been better off had he heeded to this story;

During a gathering a swami found himself cornered by a talkative woman who demanded to know his opinion on celibacy for the attainment of Sanyasa. The Swami said it would take a long time to explain and he would rather not do so at that occasion. But she wouldn’t let him go.
“All right, I’ll tell you how i feel about celibacy” said the badgered swami eventually. “ When I go to bed at night , I’m sorry. And when I get up in the morning, I’m glad.”

April 27, 2010

Bangalored



Scenes from my Project office on the 7th floor of a Govt building located adjacent to Sankey lake (Malleswaram) before & after the hailstorm that left many Bengalureans Bangalored on a hot summer day last Wednesday. The sprawling lawns of the Govt Office was covered with hailstones in quick time resembling a thin blanket of snow. The 12.5mm rainfall that accompanied the severe hailstorm brought the city to a standstill due to tree falling, water logging & traffic jams.

April 24, 2010

Lowest Bidder

Executing Tender contracts with the Govt Institutions can run into bureaucratic rough weather during unexpected times. Recently I was attempting to untangle one such situation which involved the usual Tender contract variables; EMD (Earnest Money Deposit), BG (Bank Guarantee) & MLDs (Milestone linked deliverable). During one of the meeting with a senior official involving arguments & counter arguments, I reminded my hosts that we won the contract as the lowest bidder after a grueling selection procedure involving about 45 contestants (including some big name IT Cos). And to drive home my point (and also ease up the rather serious atmosphere) I narrated him an anecdote;

I said there was this Psychologist who asked one of the American Astronauts what he was thinking about as he strapped himself to his spacecraft on the rocket which was to hurl him into space. To this the Astronaut replies “ All I keep thinking is that everything that makes this thing go up was supplied by the lowest bidder”!

I guess I had hit the Bulls eye when the discussion took a more positive turn and the official lightened up enough to say that would look into the matter and proceeded to give me two ways out of the tangle.

April 20, 2010

Echoes

I try to echo some contemporary thoughts through this Blog, however at times it can be an echo of an echo that is worth echoing. Take for instance a quote I came across recently, this famous quote by lord Samuel says 'The answer to our prayer may be the echo of our resolve'. This profound thought reminded me of Dr Smiley Blanton , a well known psychiatrist and psychoanalyst , who many believe was the real inspiration behind Norman Vincent Peale, had written a paper on how a person can tap into the tremendous reservoir of power locked within oneself.

As a matter of habit & attitude Dr.Blanton says ‘ First trust and believe in the hidden power within you’. He further goes on to explain; A psychiatrist might say 'Have faith in your unconscious'. A clergyman might say 'Have faith in God'. Personally I see no conflict between the two ideas. Indeed they may well be the same idea expressed differently. After all it was the founder of Christianity who said ' the kingdom of God is within you'.

I could see the quote of Lord Samuel resonating well with that of Dr Smiley Blanton.

April 15, 2010

Mayam ,Mahem & the Ore mafia

'Go via the Amboli route through Sawantwadi , the roads are much better even if it is 28 kilometers more’ said Suhas quite nonchalantly. I had to heed his advice seriously since he travels to Goa often, more so lately because of his new Fiat Punto. As a wholesale Vegetable vendor, Suhas supplies fresh vegetables grown around the fields of Belgaum to Goa on daily basis, and so it takes him often to Goa to meet his suppliers. Goa relies on North Karnataka for many other commodities, one of which has acquired prominence lately , not that Goa consumes it but for exports through its sea ports. Traditional Goan miners (and many other illegal mining operators in Goa) import high grade iron ore from Bellary-Hospet iron belt in Karnataka, blend it with Goan ore enhancing the export quality before shipping it out of their ports , and thanks to Reddy brothers in Bellary there is plenty to send.

And for precisely this reason I sought a change of route plan to drive down from Belgaum to Goa . The usual route (which is about 120 Kms) passes through the Anmod Ghats on the Karnataka Goa border which is now infested with so many ore carrying lorries of late that not only the road is worn out but the once green & scenic pathway is now a sea of red throughout the entire stretch . The ore carrying lorries make several up & down trips in a day and given the tight deadline delivery schedules the lorry owners have to meet, most of these lorries hover around with a death wish. And these speeding lorries dust up enough of their back packs to soak up all the greenery around in a thick blanket of fine red ore dust.

I thanked Suhas & drove down to Goa via a lesser known route; the road was OK, traffic was thin and the Amboli Ghats on the way presented a very nice scenic view of the western ghats all the way down to the Goan plains. Good riddance with the Iron Ore lorries I thought as I entered the outskirts of Mapusca and took a detour into interior Goa. I had to go via Bicholim to reach my first stop i.e, Mayam Lake View resort . The GTDC promotional brochure described it ‘You will fall in love with this place. Situated among thickly forested rolling green hills.... Mayem is off the beaten track and blissful guests swear this is one place they will return to again and again.’ and I opted this for a change before moving to a beach side resort at Calangute a day later. Bicholim is a small town with chaotically small roads & heaving a sigh of relief I managed to dodge through the city and was on the outskirts again. A nearby road sign said that Mayem lake view was close by and as I started climbing a small hillock the sickening feeling started to creep up again-the ‘Red lined’ roads! It meant that a mine was nearby and as I climbed to the top of the Hillock, the intensity of the mahem was quite palpable as I reached a 4 road intersection . A large red dusted arch pointed one road to ‘Dempo’mines and other 3 God knows where but i was more concerned about the one which led to my destination . The thought of a Lake resort in the middle of a mining area was sending my Holiday spirits tumble down like a pressure Guage in a free falling aeroplane.

But thankfully the nightmare was behind as I climbed down the hill towards a vast serene lake nestled in Greenery and I wondered how much of a difference about 2 kms made in this context. The next day morning the serene lake greeted me as I stretched myself onto a armchair on the veranda of the cottage which is perched on its banks. And as I unfolded the Navhind times , a news headline screamed ‘Ban expected to bring discipline in mining’ , another read “Quepem truckers assure to reduce traffic by 40%”. Obviously Goa was also gripped of this mania.

April 7, 2010

Howse that?

I got my son to mingle with a bunch of kids playing a game of cricket at the Indiranagar children’s park recently. My 5 year old son (Niks) was among the younger of this group of 7-8 year olds. When his turn came to bat i helped him to hold the bat & showed him how to swing it. A couple of swings & misses later we finally connected the bat to ball and then I stepped to the sidelines.

I cheered him at a distance as he took a fresh guard - this time all alone. The first ball bowled and his bat was no where near. By the time the next ball was bowled I shouted to encourage him to connect the bat. But to my dismay the shout distracted him, he dropped his bat and turned at me with a quizzical look. The ball by then had somehow managed to go & hit the stumps (which by now had notoriously shifted by a step to the right from where the batsman stood;courtesy the naughty wicketkeeper). Meanwhile Niks wondered why the other boys had begun cheering and finally after parting his bat with much resistance he ran up to me with teary eyes asking ‘what you said Papa?’

March 27, 2010

One ‘Hella’ number

Earth churns about 43 thousand Giga bytes of data per day - so claimed a recent advertisement by IBM in newspapers. In another Symantec CEO Enrique Salem says that data organized around the world is growing at 60% a year and unstructured data is growing exponentially. 

I tried to figure out how much this works out to and after a bit of number crunching I got a number measuring 1.5 into 10 raised to power 4384 bytes of data churned in a year. I said to myself ‘one helluva of a number‘ and started to see if there were any scales to measure such dinosauric proportions.

Trudging through the standard International scale of Units i came across some fancy sounding names that currently stops at Yottabyte (10to the power 24), prior to this you have Zettabit (10*21), Exabit (10*18) and Peta (10to the power 15) and so in that order. But soon there could be one more number to this lexicon- Hellabit (10*27).

‘Hella’ - a Y generation word that probably has connotations to the American slang has been taken up as a petition with the International system of units (SI) to describe 10 to the 27 zero number. Hella is supposed to take care of measuring inter-galactic distances, wattage of sun or may be some day the online storage capacity of facebook servers.

However all these fancy name calling reminded me of one venerable Ms.Centillion (1 followed by 303 zeroes). This gal stuck in the minds of a few star struck FBNO*s who not long ago had named a wannabe financial services BPO this far fetched name. But soon all its zeros went scurrying for cover leaving the poor 1 behind. And true to its numbers it had become a ‘one’ year wonder.

*fly-by-night operators

March 16, 2010

Moping Redux

How are fat girls and mopeds alike? They're both fun to ride until your friends find out. So goes a college joke but on a serious note the joys of moped riding ( or what I call Moping) on congested city riding dawned upon me in recent years and it was more by chance than design.

A decade or so back, I had sold my one & only two wheeler; a veritable Hero Honda CD 100 (in pic below) and had switched over to a car since . That Bike had been steadfast with me through my college days & early job period. A staid & steady Japanese bike of 1985 make it was among those types which were initially assembled in India. This bike took enough beating under my driving so much so that it had to suffer one major heart transplant (i mean engine reboring) during its tenure.

But about 11 years back I replaced it with a Indica V2 to take up my commuting needs & followed it up with Santro Xing in 2003. Thereafter my driving routine changed , and I resigned myself to the dull & drab driving of city car commuting. Then one day this happened, I had to go somewhere & the car was at the service centre. So invariably I turned my sight on this lean machine. At first sight it did not please me, a small fragile frame & hoi polloi looks put me off but the commuting majboori of the moment made me to ignore all that & give it a try. And lo! behold before I could try more expletives, the moped was revving smartly through bangalore’s congested roads.


Einsteins theory on the relative motion of bodies struck me hard when I realized my relatively better new found acceleration . Commuting through the dense Bangalore traffic like a hot knife wading through the butter, it made driving a breeze and I reached my destination much faster . So life suddenly seemed to be on the faster lane, relatively speaking that is .

This TVS Super was a bike that Laxmi fondly brought to Bangalore after it had dutifully served her in the hill town of Manipal. I guess the bike may not have exerted much there , for the distance between her house (a staff quarter allocated to her father who also taught there) to her alma mater, the MIT (Manipal Institute of Technology) where she later taught must have barely been 150 meters. I fondly named it Laxmi’s dhanno , inspired by Basanti’s mount in Sholay.

And Dhanno found its true calling on the bustling roads of Bangalore. Not only could it could zig zag its way through unruly traffic with remarkably agility, parking was an added convenience and real bonus. This was a minor pleasure in itself. Now I could thumb a finger at all those rogue motorists who gave me a nightmare in the car. And of course the bike could squeeze through the tightest of openings in parking lots as also those dense standing traffic awaiting the green light nirvana. It brought down the commuting time on my designated routes by almost 50% - no scientific tests but simple funda, this 2 wheeler of a widget could simply wriggle its way through traffic , either standing or slow moving , so much so that it always ended up at the front of the traffic signal or near about . This gave a lot of leeway in bringing down the commuting times as the queuing length decreased & the frontal traffic dint slow one down.

So every time I venture out with this machine and take a look at the ever increasing traffic on Bangalore’s congested roads , I may be subconsciously murmuring ‘Chal meri Dhanno’ .

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