Thursday, March 31, 2005

MBA Women

More young women than ever before are aspiring for MBAs.This year, there are 45 odd girls at IIM Ahmedabad - a record number.

Of course, that's partly because the batch size has been steadily increased.As a proportion of the batch the figure is fairly constant.

But, the question is, will this mean a surge in the number of women in middle to senior management positions 10-15 years from now?

I'm not so sure. In the initial 5-8 years years, yes. Young women will give the guys a run fortheir money. But once they get into motherhood mode the age old dilemmas kick in.

This is a subject I've written about in a cover story for Businessworld magazine (issue dated April 4, 2005). In a piece titled 'Price and Prejudice' I note

Think ‘female managers’ and enough Big Names readily roll off the tongue to make a convincing case for the rise and rise of women in the workplace: the ICICI women, Naina Lal Kidwai, Vinita Bali, Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw... .

No doubt, that gutsy generation has paved the way. It’s hard to believe that when Naina Lal applied to PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 1977 for a chartered accountant’s post, the company had to think long and hard before hiring her. Because prior to that they had never taken a woman on board!

Three decades later, the first-woman-to-do-the things-women-never-did bit is definitely over and done with. No job — at the entry level, at least — is seen as inherently unsuitable for women.

And yet, these few well-known faces are but the tip of the iceberg. The huge, invisible mass of that iceberg consists of the thousands of extremely capable women who will never make it to CEO or senior management levels. And it’s not just about the ‘glass ceiling’, competence or leadership style.

The real reason why women ‘fail’ to get ahead goes beyond that. Women could be as smart (or smarter) than their male counterparts, but for the most part they cannot — and will not — put up with the obscenely long hours, frequent travel or sudden relocation readily embraced by those seriously attempting to scale the corporate summit.

Tracking the careers of a group of UC Berkeley MBAs, Stanford Business School professor Charles O’Reilly said:“What makes a difference at the top level is effort; ability has been equilibrated.”

In an interview to Fast Company magazine, O’Reilly elaborated: “Today’s women are equal to their male counterparts in education, experience and skill. But when it is a painful choice between the client crisis and the birthday party, the long road trip and the middle schooler who needs attention, the employee most likely to put company over family is the traditional, work-oriented male.”

Ask B-school graduates who have crossed the five-years-since-we-left-campus-mark, and the number of female batch mates zealously pursuing careers starts declining rapidly. Which is understandable, because these are child-bearing years. But for many of these women, a shift into lower gear becomes a conscious, long-term choice.

Access the rest of the article at if you like. There are two more articls in the issue by me "Mission Possible" and "How Working Couples Cope".

Registration is required. I know, that's a pain, but since you aren't spending 10 bucks on the magazine don't crib!

What, me worry?
Of course, one may argue, the 'new generation' of women will be different. But the biological reality is, women do -eventually - want to be mothers. Although some - what are called 'career primaries' - are opting not to.

The social reality is, men have made the rules in the workplace. And women, until they can alter those rules, have to live by the existing ones to succeed.

A price not all are willing to pay!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Coffee shop crib

I like Barista. I just hate their coffee. It's bitter, yes even the cafe au lait (which has 1/2 tsp more of the white stuff than the non-lait), and even after demanding and dunking more sachets (lots more!) of that other white stuff.

So coffee bars are an American concept and they like it black, with no sugar if you please. Why torture brown skinned natives who didn't elect George Bush and live 3000 miles from Graceland?

Still, people are flocking to Barista and I'll tell you why. Because the coffee is just incidental. It's the place to meet. "See you outside Asiatic at 7?" That kind of thing is history.

The younger lot - students - seem to prefer Cafe Coffee Day, popularly known as CCD. Even though Barista has slashed prices. It's still perceived as being more expensive.

In Bombay, Barista has better locations (right next to Sterling and Regal cinema), for example. And although CCD has some neat outlets (like Carter Rd), many are really cramped and dinky ones.

There is of course Mocha which I am happy to see expanding its reach. There's a really cool outlet opened in Ahmedabad, a stone's throw from IIM.

It's actually one of the most interesting of all Mochas as it's housed in a bungalow - which means lots more space to loll around! And there's a tree growing inside the place which adds a lot of character.

Of course, Mocha cannot expand as rapidly as a CCD which has just opened its 200th outlet because mass-replication would kill the whole concept.

For one, they serve edible food - unlike the cardboard with sugar sprinkled on top taht passes off for a doughnut at Barista.

And, each Mocha outlet is replicated in spirit - but not down to every last doorknob, as is the case with CCD/ Barista. I even like the fact that every chair in the joint isn't alike :)

There are other coffee shop chains - Qwikys, Java City and so on. I don't know enough about them to comment - they're more regional in nature. Given that anything which isn't making an impact in Mumbai can't really be national :)

On the other hand, there is a feeble attempt by the Tea Board to popularise tea bars. The only really popular one we had - th Cha Bar at Oxford Bokstore - was unceremoniously shut down by the BMC some time ago.

Coffee, however bad the brew may taste, has a cooler ring to it.
No thanks to 8 years of endorsement by Rachel & co in Friends.

Now, if they could just concentrate on getting the stuff they serve there to taste better!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Yeh dosti

After a long, long time I really enjoyed Holi. Because it was in the company of old and dear friends.

At 18, you take the presence of friends in your life as granted. By 25, you no longer have that luxury. Because, you can no longer make new ones.

I think friendship is based on two vital parameters: history and chemistry.

History is essentially shared memories and experiences. History is born out of people hanging out together - without any particular goal or purpose.

This happens most easily at school and college, an important and impressionable portion of our lives when we share a common journey. A journey which necessarily involves spending a great deal of time together.

Attending classes, studying together for exams, sharing lunch dabbas. Even the very simple routine of taking the same bus everyday.

And though one individual may be the class topper and the other only interested in sports, these kind of differences don't really matter. X and Y can still be on the same wavelength, as the closest of friends.

This is what's called 'chemistry' and undoubtedly it's something we instinctively know from an early age.

My 5 year old daughter has a 'best friend' in her kindergarten class. Many are the days when she calls me at work to bawl about how Krittika Warrier has pulled her hair today. The next day it's completely forgotten - the two are inseparable.

Many minds, many kinds
Ideally, a friendship has both history and chemistry. These are your closest, dearest friends.

In my case they are 'colony friends' - the girls I grew up with. We spent two decades together on the same campus where our dads worked. And although we are far apart now (me in India, most of them in the US) we can still pick up from where we left off. Anytime.

But even history alone can make for a good friendship. People you didn't really get to know that well can re enter your life on the basis of a shared experience.

This is most true if you've attended a residential college or lived in a hostel of some sort. While on campus you generally make a few close friends - and tons of acquaintances. With the passage of time, a few of those acquaintances too are transformed into enduring friendships.

This happens because at some point later in life your paths collide - and you find there is some chemistry after all. Or a shared need. The shared experience acts as a comfort zone, which is the one element of friendship that's very hard to build as you grow older.

Comfort zones take time to evolve and time is the one single most scarce commodity in the modern yuppie's lifestyle.

Time kahaan hai?
So even though you may find you have a chemistry with someone you meet at a party, or in the course of work, the chances of you being able to keep in touch with that person are rather low. It can happen - if both sides make the effort - but that's often the crux of the problem.

Isn't friendship supposed to be effortless, natural? If you have to work at it - just like every other goddamn thing - is there any point?

Besides, the idea of spending time aimlessly with another human being appears to be a waste.

So you tend to make 'buddies' with whom you can share a specific activity - say tennis or golf, or hitting bars.

Or, you make new professional contacts. People you've worked with in the past usually fall in this category. Some people actively 'network' - at industry seminars, at alumni reunions and even websites like

The Techno Touch
Earlier, maintaining a professional contact involved the effort of sending out New Year and Diwali cards. Now, modern technology - email, sms and most of all yahoogroups make the job much simpler.

In fact technology has created a tangible difference - with respect to friendship in general - between those under 25 and those over it.

The 'history + chemistry' or extremely close friendships are necessarily limited - and that will remain true of both groups.

But young people today are going to have - throughout their lives - a larger base of historical friends ie school, college, first job chums. That's because they never 'lose touch'. One hotmail or yahoo id is all it takes to keep track of a person throughout his many changes of job/ spouse/ continents.

Secondly, the 'always-on' generation can and will find 'chemistry' online. Not sexual chemistry, just the general 'we-vibe-together' feeling that's so crucial to any friendship.

While you may not 'spend time' together in the physical world, chatting every night on msn is a good substitute. As is being able to peek into someone's head via their blog :)

Bottomline: You continue meeting lots of interesting and not-so-interesting people as you journey through life. But 'true friends' are a rare and precious commodity. Hang on to those you have!

And if you've been neglecting your friendships do call up to say "I've been thinking about you". Today!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Aadmi aur Eve

Yesterday a 13 year old and her two friends had acid thrown on them outside their school, situated in Mumbai's Chembur suburb.

The attacker undertook the 'job' for a mere Rs 300. The chap who paid the money was a 32 year old, rightly described by Mid-day as a pervert. He decide to teach a lesson to the poor kid he'd become infatuated with for 'spurning' his advances.

What is it with Indian men? OK, before you exclaim "don't generalise!" I'll qualify that. Sure, there are honourable exceptions.

But there really has to be something wrong with the section of mankind which is in the news on a regular basis for :
a) Getting infatuated with underage girls
b) Trying to physically harm the object of their unwanted affections.

Acid attacks, in particular, are I am sure a phenomenon seen nowhere else in the civilised world.

Get a life!
Taking 'revenge' with someone you've actually had a relationship with is somewhat understandable - although not something I would condone.

Physically harming a person who had nothing to do with you in the first place is crazy. Men in other cultures simply shift their gaze to other women. They eventually find someone who reciprocates.

If not as a species, at least a subspecies of Indian man has an extremely delicate ego which can be shattered by the slightest rejection.

And the young women of this country are the ones paying the price for it.

Some person you're barely aware of could get infatuated with you and when you say 'sorry, not interested', the consequences could be dire!

Surely girls also go through one sided infatuations and get rejected. But I am yet to hear of a single guy who's had acid thrown on him by such a young woman.

Scheming bahus and vixen nanads may be the staple of soap opera television, there's no disputing the fact that in real life women would never ever stoop as low as men can.

And do.

Radio rocking

I am in love with an advertising jingle. Ridiculous, but currently true :)

The jingle is for a product called Parachute advansed and it's an after shower hair cream for guys.

The kind of ad that is usually devised for such a product is a permutation of the yo-use-this-product-and-you-will-get-all-the-girls.

However the ad that is actually running - on the radio at least - is surprisingly interesting. It's sung like a rap song, the lyrics go something as follows...

Page 3 cleavage, municipalty sewage..
Five star changa, bill kare nanga..

Chorus: Bure hain haal... Chak chaka chak baal.

Batti wali gaadi, hipster sari...
Girlfriend ka ditch, life's a bitch

Chorus: Bure hain haal... Chak chaka chak baal.

So - life is bad, but use our product and at least your hair won't be.
If I were a guy, I would!

Wish I could give you an audio link to it because really, I think it's extremely creative. Especially coming from a house like Parachute which for YEARS has been trying to livedown its 'telu' image.

There's hope yet
In fact, all of a sudden, there's a burst of creativity in the radio medium itself. Both advertising and content.

You don't hear any more of those Sholay inspired ads. Or RJs with highly exaggerated firang accents. Jaggu and Tarana on Go 92.5 in particular have achieved a very cool and easy conversational style. They exchange the kind of banter that comes so naturally to radio show hosts abroad.

Also, mobile phones with FM radios seem to be everywhere. Commuters/ salesgirls/ even panwallahs are now into it.

Now if only the government could resolve its licensing issues and allow a hundred interesting FM stations to bloom! Well, not a hundred perhaps but at least a dozen?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I believe - in myself

After all the hype about placements and salaries, here's an interesting story. About a guy who's walked away from it all to pursue his own dream.

22 year old Abhishek Thakore, a second year student from IIM Bangalore could very well have joined any company of his choice. With an enviable 3.5 CGPA (placing him in the top 20 of the batch) and a summer job with Deutsche Bank in Singapore, Abhishek appeared all set to become the quintessential yuppie managing risk funds.

But Abhishek has taken the radical decision of dropping out of placement. The risk he's managing is a million times more. It involves laying the most difficult bet of all - on himself.

Taking the Big Leap
"On the one side was the corporate world filled with certainty of a job, a steady income and great prospects of growth," says Abhishek. "On the other, was complete uncertainty". However, over the four months that he spent on an exchange programme in Germany, he got time to take a retrospective look at his life.

With people like Deepak Chopra and Anthony Robbins being his inspiration, he consolidated his dreams and decided to take the leap - which he says was the closest he's ever come to bungee jumping. "I realised that the first person I need to sell the idea is myself. Once that would happen everything else would fall in place, I was sure."

So what exactly is Abhishek's 'Big idea'? His dream is to set up a company that imparts "life skills training" to students. "The mission of my life is to help people discover their true dreams and equip them to achieve them," he says. "We are going to be a human technology distribution company."

The first tentative step in this direction is a series of camps for school and college students branded "Ways of Winners" which will cover everything from effective studies to negotiating with parents.

In the March 21 issue of Businessworld magazine I'd done a small feature on Abhishek titled "Giving placements a miss". (registration required to access)

The Big Idea
"We are here to offer what traditional schooling misses out on."

The contention is simple: As students, we all mug up facts, figures and dates. But knowing where in India railway coaches are manufactured is of absolutely no use to you once regurgitated in the exam. The challenges young people face on a day to day basis - from handling relationships, to managing time and earning pocket money - are what 'Thakore Learning Centre' will be addressing.

Personally, I think there is definitely a need for this kind of a program. Parents are often wrapped up in their own problems, teachers generally unapproachable. Underneath their gung-ho exterior, a lot of young people are terribly anxious and insecure. And carrying these insecurities into your adult life is a sure shot recipe for personal and professional mediocrity.

Dreaming a little dream
MBAs turning entrepreneurs is not exactly a new story. But here again there are those driven by conventional opportunities - IT, consulting, CAT coaching classes. Quitting a secure job to start a business is always dicey - but success or failure is mainly dependent on the soundness of your execution. A market per se exists.

The likes of Abhishek howeever, are driven by impossible sounding dreams. The dreamers believe they can create a market. That they have something unique to offer to the world. Something the world needs - but doesn't yet know.

12 years ago I too had a similar, impossible sounding dream - to start a youth magazine. And I too opted out of placement to pursue it.

The logic was simple: once you step on the corporate treadmill, it's hard to get off. So I joined a large media company - an out-of-placement job at a really miserable salary. But, I knew it wasn't my ultimate destination. Just a pit stop where I could learn the ropes of the business.

Yet, a certain sense of complacency began to set in. One fine day realisation dawned - I had to 'just do it'. The magazine had already been published in my head and yet, unless I took the leap into the unknown - it would never see the light of day.

Thus was 'JAM' born into the world - kicking and screaming. Almost ten years to the day I made the decision, I can only say that today, it would have been that much tougher.

A menu of your choice
When I graduated - in 1993 - the jobs on offer were nowhere near the kind offered today.There were no foreign postings or dollar salaries. Average rupee salaries were also far more modest.

Now, the goodies on the placement table are far, far more tempting. It's like walking away from a lavish 5 star buffet - because you'd rather have simple food in your own kitchen.

Like most 5 star buffets, the so-called 'hot jobs' often turn out to be rather bland. But over a period of time you get addicted to the ambience and your tastebuds adjust to the situation.

Abhishek on the other hand may occasionally tire of 'ghar ka khaana' and wonder whether he made the right choice after all. But that's only human. If the dream is strong and vibrant, the doubts will come and go. But eventually fade away.

Should all MBAs be entrepreneurs? Not for a moment would I suggest that every IIM graduate should follow in Abhishek's footsteps. Or mine.

But I do think we need to devise a more 'thinking' approach towards campus placements. And what it is we really want from our lives.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The $150,000 googly

An IIM Ahmedabad student has reportedly bagged a job offer of $ 150,000 (Rs 50 lakhs). The news has made headlines in all the morning papers. And a million more 'I-want-to-attend-IIM A' dreams have been created in one fell swoop.

My warm congratulations to the student but, in the public interest, a few points that need to be highlighted:

* The student in question has work experience - so in effect it's a 'lateral placement'. The highest offer to a fresher is $110,000

* Only 58 students out of a batch of 250 got placed on 'Day Zero'. Some 84 job offers were made but as one student was being wooed by more than one company, not all could be accepted.

* This means that 80% of the batch is - as I write this - still appearing for interviews with all the regular rupee-paying companies. The average Indian salary - last year - was Rs 7 lakhs.

Expect that to become Rs 8 lakhs this year, thanks to a buoyant job scene. But remember, that if the 'average' is 7 lakhs there are a good number of students below that figure too!

So while the $150,000 salary may make headlines let's be clear about the fact that it is a 'jackpot' - as the papers are describing it. It's the good fortune - and brilliance - of one individual. Not something you will necessarily have a shot at - even if you do make it to IIM Ahmedabad!

As my brother, an IIM A 1998 batch graduate, working for P & G Singapore, remarked,"Even I don't get paid that much - after 5 years on the job!" With an MNC, in a foreign posting - I might add. Most IIM alums would have a similar story.

Yes, they get paid well and hold positions offering challenge and responsibility. But, few are actually 'obscenely rich'.

Bottomline: Take all these figures about MBA placements with a fistful of salt. There are many good reasons to consider doing an MBA but the hope of that $150,000 job should not be one of them.

The richest men in the world - like L N Mittal - have made their millions not on the backs of MBAs but native intelligence, hard work and good luck. If that's your dream - follow their example!

Monday, March 14, 2005

The MBA - Empty Raincoat?

Ground Zero, Day Zero

It's placement season at IIMs. Tomorrow is 'day zero' at IIM Ahmedabad - a strange concept indeed. A decade ago when I was on campus we had a 'Day One' ie the day the most sought after companies (decided on the basis of votes by students) were invited.

Day Zero is the 'day before even day one', reserved for the dudes from investment banks offering dollar salaries and postings in London and New York. It's a term designed to stroke the egos of recruiters (many of whom happen to be alumni themselves).

The kick is to come and have 'first pick' off the tree laden with ripe MBA fruit. And there's a visible scramble to pick the few fruit which has clearly discernible markings of 'goodness'. In a piece titled 'MBA Caste System' which I wrote for some time ago I'd elaborated...

"Hotshot consulting firms or investment banks essentially need to pick up a dozen fresh MBAs, at max. So it makes great sense to visit only the top schools. And there too, pick up the 'top' students... Despite the fact that all the folks who made it to an IIM-A beat the same odds, some ARE more equal than others.

This is the breed known as the 'I schols' - a campus term for the top 20 students who are awarded 'industry scholarships'. The pecking order is swiftly and brutally established in the first few weeks on campus and usually holds good for the rest of the year. And whaddaya know? A large number of toppers are invariably IITians. ....

To offer a more level playing field, CVs sent to companies for summer placements at IIM-A now don't carry the student's CGPA. But the end result is still the same. Coveted recruiters look for the undergraduate background of the student and invariably shortlist those from IIT. IIM may be a brand name, but IIT-IIM is sone pe suhaga."

In effect, being one of 300 students in India selected out of 1.5 lakhs is not enough. One would presume that everyone who makes it to this stage is talented - and that now the challenge is to find a match between the individual and a company. Finding the right job for each person based on criteria like genuine interest in a field and cultural fit is far harder - but more rewarding.

Instead, both companies and students are happy to take the easy way out. Students go for the best packages and brand names. Companies in turn stick to a particular profile of students which they reason has 'worked' in the past. And thus we have large corporations full of very similar looking, similar sounding and similar thinking people.

Which, in the longer run, surely cannot be such a good thing!

Personally I think this is one of the reasons we see so little innovation and 'out of the box' thinking by corporations. And the world is definitely a poorer place for it.

Bottomline: Money is important but young people quickly realise - just a few months into a job - that it isn't everything. That's why, for example, so many are quitting well paid BPO jobs.

In the case of MBAs too, the inherent lack of fit between job and individuals creates 'rolling stones' always looking for better opportunities.

What they are really looking for is meaning. A job where they feel they are making use of their unique talents and skills - making some kind of difference.

To use a potent phrase coined by management guru Charles Handy, no human being - least of all those who are extremely capable and bright! - wish to be 'empty raincoats' or nameless numbers on a payroll.

No matter how high that pay may be.

Monday, March 07, 2005

What India can learn from America

Now that we're globalising - it'd be great if we in India adopted some of these (really great) things from the American way of life.

The Public Library: Hollywood devotes a lot more movie footage to the prom than the library, so the rest of the world knows little about this amazing American institution. No matter how small the town it will possess a decent sized public library which residents can use - free of cost. Of course, technically the library is funded by taxes but you don't actually pay each time you borrow a book.

Cut to India, where you find libraries mainly in colleges, and sad ones at that. Some of them still refuse to let you browse through the shelves and choose for yourself. No sir, write the name of the book you want and a haughty looking librarian will go fetch it for you!

The only other kind of library around is the local 'circulating' library stocking Archie Double Digests, Mills & Boon and James Hadley Chase in the name of 'novels'. And even this kind of library is practically extinct now, having upgraded to VCD and DVD rentals.

Penurious kitabi keedas can either try their luck along the footpaths of Fountain and Daryaganj which sell second hand books. Or, shamelessly hang out in Crossword and read as much as you can without buying.

Funda: Yes, there is satellite TV and there is google. But if you want to get through CAT, a love for reading is what will see you through the verbal section. Mugging up word lists and practicing mock CATS is not enough. Take my word on that!

Graduation: A graduation ceremony is that one last and memorable gathering of a group of young people who've lived and learnt so much together. A rite of passage for every American high school and college student.

It's a solemn, formal occassion witnessed with pride by family and friends. Graduation is a landmark and the ritual of cap and gown, class procession and valedictory address makes its feel like one.

In Bharat desh mahaan the 'convocation ceremony' is an utter joke. The university itself churns out so many thousand graduates that it only bothers to invite gold medallists for the ceremony. The rest of us will have to go to some clerk infested office and fetch our degrees - sometime over the course of the year.

It's no coincidence that the only institutions which actually have the tradition of a formal convocation are the IITs and IIMs. Not to say that if all colleges go the cermonial way their degrees or diplomas will suddenly increase in their inherent value. But the feel-good factor of graduation surely will!

Funda: Convication to baad ki baat hai, pehle universities mein standard to hona chahiye! Every young Indian wants a decent education - which accounts for the huge number of MBA and Engineering colleges which have sprung up. But there's no governing body to ensure they provide a minimum acceptable quality and infrsatructure... :(

Compare that to the US where even low ranked colleges are not bad places to study. Which is why we're seeing a huge exodus of Indian students to unheard of institutes in even Australia/ New Zealand.

* Endowments: When rich Americans kick the bucket, they invariably will a good sum to their alma maters, pet charities or research institutions. When rich Indians kick the bucket, their kids get everything. Or, in the absence of a will, fight over everything for the next 20 years.

Americans endow colleges and non profit organisations working for the greater good of society. Indians endow temples and benches in parks. Americans are not shocked to receive letters from their former universities asking to be named as beneficiaries in their wills. Indians are shocked by the very concept of making a will.

Things are changing here, slowly. But we still have way too many park benches and temples, and far too many causes and institutions struggling for funds.

Funda: The 'I take care of you in old age' concept is kind of disappearing, with most parents preferring to remain financially self sufficient - and even live independently - in their post-retirement phase.

Eventually, I do see many socially minded individuals bequeathing a part of their savings to charity. But the bulk of it will still go to the kids - or grandkids. Woh hamari parampara hai...

Garage Sales: The runaway success of is no surprise when you note the fact that Americans have always loved buying each others's junk. They simply stuck a 'garage sale' sign and sold away at throwaway prices. Kids sell the toys they've outgrown, grown ups their books and furniture. One man's castaways became another's bargain.

Garage sales are fun, they're sensible, they're a cheaper way of decluttering than hiring a feng shui consultant. But we Indians believe in lovingly preserving stuff that's never going to be used in this lifetime. Just in case.

It's always been a recycle and use culture but now, the old systems can't cope any more. The bai doesn't want that sequinned spaghetti you're bored of, or the barely used baby cot. But, garage sales don't take place in India... maybe because we don't have garages. Maybe a 'Sunday bazaar' in the local park where anyone can set up a stall and sell might be the answer?

Funda: Many stores do accept old stuff - clothes, electronics etc in 'exchange offers'. That's socially acceptable. But we will I'm sure see 'thrift' shops like Oxfam in UK here eventually which will mix charity with the appeal of picking up a bargain.

I just heard of a store called Cypress in Bandra which is encouraging its Page 3 patrons to 'donate' designer clothing from a couple of seasons ago... Remains to be seen whether junta will be OK with buying it.

Sports: Americans watch a lot of sports. And not just on television. They actually turn up at stadiums to cheer their baseball and football and ice hockey teams. Promising atheletes are spotted young and groomed in high school teams. Star performers get scholarships to prestigious universities and can dream of making a pro-sports career.

The situation in India? A passion for sports is very extinguished by practical reality. One must be extremely foolhardy - and extremely brave - to dream of a career even in our no 1 sport. That's because anything other than national level cricket draws either viewers nor sponsors.

Who cares if Maharashtra beats Punjab in Ranji Trophy? It's just lack of imagination that prevents India from having its own brand of heavily promoted and fan-supported leagues in different sports. If LA can have its Lakers and Chicago its Bears, why not the Bangalore Badshahs vs the Peshawar Pashas. Or whatever.

Sport will then have ots rightful place under the sun. And we will have something better to do on Saturday than waste our money at the local mall or multiplex.

Funda: It's all about getting the marketing mix correct. If you look at sports as a huge potential entertainment business - and invest in it - it will yield returns.

We do have a Premier Hockey League (PHL) which is thinking along these lines but it's turned into a non-event. It hasn't had a fraction of the promotion that channels normally do when launching even a new show. And this is a completely new concept.

Apparently the Hyderabad Sultans defeated Sher-e-Jalandhar to claim the title in the PHL finals but only the hardcore sports fans must have been following the matches. The idea just hasn't fired up the man-on-the-street's imagination.

To sum it up, globalising can mean more than watching the same TV shows (or adaptations thereof) and eating the same burgers as the Americans. We in India - young and old have this habit of feeling 'culturally superior'. Let's instead be open to new ideas and as they say in B school, borrow 'best practices' - wherever they may originate.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

More than a tennis player

She may have bowed out of the Dubai Open but hey, it happens. Sania Mirza is just 18 - so time is on her side. Watching her powerful and graceful strokes you feel quite sure this girl is going to go far.

Along the way she is going to have to become immune to crazy Indian fans who will 'go wild' every time she wins a point. Many of the Indian spectators - at Dubai at least - were probably not even clued into tennis. But great - at least they know there is sporting life beyond cricket.

Sania is a powerful symbol of youth - and achievement. But simply by being who she is, Sania is also the face of the modern young Muslim woman.

Think about it:

- She is pursuing a completely unconventional career, where even conventional ones like medicine/ engineering/ MBA are rare for women in her community.

- She is on national television in tennis shorts and t shirt and no one has raised an eyebrow (at least yet)

I am not being 'communal' when I make these observations. Having studied at a college with a large number of Muslim girls I have seen first hand the kind of restrictions they face when it come to personal choices.

To begin with, they all came to Sophia because it is a girl's college. Some of the girls still wore burkhas to college (there was a stand so they could hang it up while on campus). Most got married immediately after graduating - at 20/ 21 and quickly became mothers.

I remember in particular one extremely talented girl - a gifted elocutionist and actor. She was selected as the lead actress in a play at the annual inter-class dramatics competition. The play was set in a Victorian period which meant she would have to weara costume other than salwar kameez. Her parents made a huge fuss about her arms showing - and this when the audience consisted only of women - students and professors of the college.

At IIM Ahmedabad, where I studied there wasn't a single Muslim girl among the 30 who were in my batch. And I don't think this has anything to do with 'discrimination' - it's just that they have never been given the freedom to dream big. Or the necessary parental support and encouragement. Come to think of it - I don't recall any Muslim boys in the batch either...

I don't say all Hindu women have the freedom to 'dream' either (read my earlier post: yeh ladki hai kahaan) but certainly many more of them are breaking new ground professionally.

Finally, Sania is a good reminder to the world of how India is different from fundamentalist Muslim regimes across the world. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan - could any of them have produced a Sania???

I think not. India is at the end of the day a democratic country. A young Muslim woman - with the support of her family - can achieve almost anything. After all, even if the community were not to approve its word is not legal and binding.

Sania - you don't have to take up any 'cause'. Just concentrate on playing great tennis. Just 'being yourself' is a great inspiration for women, for Muslims and for all of India.

Friday, March 04, 2005

It's all in the hair

Just a quick additional point re: my previous post about what girls - and some guys - will be spending on - Hair.

Mainly: colouring, highlighting, straightening.

A few years ago, spending upwards of 2000 bucks to jazz up your hair was unheard of. Now, it's not a big deal.

I guess the hair industry needs to thank the following:

The women on the idiot box : Vamp or bahu, there is scarcely a woman on the telly with her hair less than perfect - or in its original colour. Daily exposure to 'wow-looking' hair has no doubt fuelled the desire to have the same in the aam junta.

What they realised was that no one is 'born' with it. Good hair is just the result of hours spent 'investing' in one's hair with the help of a trained professional.

Farhan Akhtar: Celeb hairstyles have been copied in the past. But Dil Chahta hai made hair 'cool'. The resulting publicity for Adhuna Akhtar's and Juice hair salon (which had patrons willing to shell out 800 bucks a cut) was a new high point in India's 'hair history'.

Postscript: Adhuna fell out with the financial partner of Juice and has now set up a new salon called Bblunt in Bbandra.

The Trend
There was a time when using shampoo used to be an upmarket thing. With two rupee sachets flooding the market everyone does. At the same time, young women have become more conscious about their hair and coloured/ straightened hair needs more 'advanced' products.

So, even as the mainline shampoos go mass, there will be an increasing number who will switch to using 'salon' shampoos and imported brands, even though they may cost Rs 200-400 a bottle vs Rs 40 bucks for the regular Pantene/ Sunsilk.

Also, haircare is a more unisex activity than say, getting a facial. Despite all the talk about metrosexuality you can be sure that few men will venture into waxing or bleaching. Hair? Sure. That's studly enough.

Young men have always been obsessed with their hair. In decades past, they's keep a comb handy in their back pockets, and constantly run it through their hair - with the aid of scooter and car mirrors. Woh naubat aaj nahin aati, simply because they ensure it's gelled into place.

The trick is for cosmetics companies to get us to use more of their products. Already from simple oil and shampoo the youth population at least is graduating to hair serums, gels/ wax, anti frizz products, leave-in conditioners.

Apparently women in Korea use 12 products every morning on their face including stuff like "pre-moisturisers"...

The Big Question for marketers: How to sell us stuff we don't really need but makes us feel good :)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The 'youth' budget

Two days after the dust has settled on P Chidambaram's budget announcements, so has the euphoria.

Within the fine print are several nasty li'l zingers like 'fringe benefit tax' which, if implemented, will make life quite painful for employees and employers

The folks who will probably be least affected by this will be the 20-25 year olds in their first or second jobs, earning below 25k a month.

To this bunch, the favourable changes in tax structure are going to offset the negative impact of the other proposals. In any case, being relatively junior these folks don't enjoy that many fringe benefits in the first place.

Yeh maal bikega
We usually spend based on how rich we 'feel' - not just how much money we have in the bank. Right now, young India is feeling good and more likely than ever to spend.
Clothes/ movies/ eating out are perennial favourites but among the bigger ticket items:

Mobile handset upgrades: The 15-20k category will see more buyers, looking for specific applications like megapixel cameras and PDAs.

Foreign vacations: With air ticket prices tumbling (Air Lanka recently made a fantastic offer for those willing to travel in March) more young people will make impulse foreign trips.

A Southeast Asian holiday of 4-5 days (all included) is possible in abt Rs 20,000 per person - if you wait for a good 'deal'. With Jet, Sahara etc also flying to KL, Singapore, Bangkok - expect more such goodies :)

Diamond jewellery: Thanks to DTC's terrific marketing, diamonds are definitely on the young woman's radar. And they aren't going to wait for boyfriends or husbands to buy it for them. Rings and pendants upto Rs 10,000 - in a variety of designs - will work their magic.

IPods: Since young men can't buy jewellery (well, not the expensive kind - beads are OK) they're gonna go for gadgets. And the hottest gadget around is the IPod. It will not sell in large numbers - but will have its die hard fans.

Enjoy it while it lasts... Before you 'move up' in life and fnd yourself saddled with a home loan, car loan and 'fringe benefit tax'...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Great Indian Marriage

Last night I saw a sweet old fashioned film called 'Barefoot in the Park'. It's just waiting to catch the eye of a Bollywood type at his local DVD library - watch for it to be turned into a hit Hindi phillum!

Actually the movie itself is an adaptation of a Broadway play written by Neil Simon in the 60s. The story is basic: Paul (Robert Redford) is an up and coming young lawyer who's just married Corie (Jane Fonda) an excessively perky young thing. Life after the honeymoon is not a bed of roses as Corie is not exactly a meticulous homemaker. For example. she chooses an apartment on the 5th floor of a building without an elevator (making for plenty of comic moments).

What's worse, however, is that Paul now needs to concentrate on furthering his career - and after one night on the town where Paul does not join in the fun, Corie starts feeling he's a 'stuffed shirt'. "You won't even walk barefoot in the park," she says - a confirmation to her of the fact that Paul is simply to uptight to enjoy life.

So, just a few weeks into the marriage she declares it's time for him to move out - and for them to get a divorce. Remember I said it's an old fashioned film - so in the end they kiss and make up. However it's interesting to note that it's basically a case of the young woman's lowered 'tolerance level' - a phenomenon we are seeing a lot of in India now.

"Can't take it, won't take it"
An India Today cover story titled 'Divorce goes young' (Feb 28, 2005) notes that 70% of divorces now involve couples below 35 years of age, driven apart by stressful lifestyles and intolerance.

'Divorces are not new in India," notes the article. "What's new is their growing numbers, different reasons and the diminishing stigma around them. More young couples are filing for divorce long before the 7 year itch sets in... Some in the first year of marriage."

Apparently 'amicable separation' in the first year of marriage has increased by 30% since 2000. And, more young women are initiating divorce. And not because of dowry harassment/ physical violence - which were the main reasons earlier. "Sexual incomaptibility, insensitivity, inequality, temperamental differences and psychological tiredness" are the reasons given most often now.

The problem begins with simple irritants like one partner likes films, the other theatre... one likes to spend, the other save. "Instead of adjustment, people dwell on the differences..." And then things quickly boil over.

Part of the reason is the financial empowerment of women - it makes it a lot easier for them to say "I don't need to put up with this nonsense". But even women who stepped into marriage as 'homemakers' are less inclined to be adjusting and tolerant.

However, survey after survey reveals that young people still believe in marriage - few are for live-in relationships. So what's the solution?

Maybe 'relationship training' in schools and colleges? At least plant the seed in young people's minds that marriage is not something that can run on auto-pilot once the wooing phase is over. You have to work on it, just like your career.

Speaking of careers, there's a big business opportunity in counselling - marital and otherwise. Psychology graduates are going to soon be a 'hot' commodity in the market - as companies, schools and colleges will be forced to look at the mental health aspect in their organisations.

Coming back to the original topic, Corie's mother gives her this most sensible piece od advice,"Give up a little of yourself for him... Don't make everything a game. Take care of him. Make him feel important!" If you manage to do that, she says - you will be one of the 2 out of 10 couples with a 'happy marriage'.

Unfortunately, young women, can't manage that. It goes against their 'we are liberated and demand equality' attitude'. Yet 4 decades later that bit of advice is still relevant.

Fact is, men - in India and the world over - have not evolved as rapidly as the women. They need reassurance and ego massage. Which is something young women should not see as a sign that they are 'inferior' - in fact it's quite the opposite :)

Shobha De's new book 'Spouse' seems like a very timely release in this context. I am no fan of her past works, but I think finally she has produced a book on a subject where she has real insight to share. In a first of sorts then - I may actually pick up a copy. Will let you know if you should too :)

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