Thursday, June 30, 2005

Career cop-out

"Mumbai girls are more adventurous than boys in their choice of career..." reports this morning's Bombay Times.

A survey of 1800 students aged 15 to 18 found that 61% of female students (vs 39% of guys) favoured offbeat 'careers' that included vocations like dog training, tattoo artistry, paragliding, sleuthing and teaching yoga.

Sounds more like luxury, than adventure to me. When a girl says, "Dad I want to study Philosophy" or "Mom, I want to become a dog trainer" here are the two likely scenarios:

a) OK, dear - whatever it is that makes you happy
b) We thought you could do better than that but OK, dear - whatever it is that makes you happy

The sentence left unsaid after that:"Theek hai, baad mein shaadi hi to karni hai".

Given the times, most parents would like their daughters to have some skill or ability to be financially independent - if need be. But very few actually push and prod the girls into gruelling careers.

In fact, some - of the Old School - are secretly relieved:"Zyaada padh-likh kar kya karna hai?"

Take the same dilemma when raised by the opposite sex. When a guy says, "Dad I want to study Philosophy" or "Mom, I want to become a dog trainer" here are the likely scenarios:

a) OK dear - whatever it is that makes you happy ... (the rare, 'enlightened' response - usually from parents with sufficently large bank balances).

b) We thought you could do better than that... AND WE INSIST THAT YOU DO!!! ... (reaction you can expect from the majority)

The sentence left unsaid after that: "Remember, you are the man, the Provider!!"

Actually it usually doesn't even come to that - most guys naturally gravitate towards careers where there is money and power. They are more risk averse simply because the chances of finding a career-minded woman who is going to support them while they paint or sing for pocket money are low.

And, let's face it, the idea itself is unacceptable to the average Male Ego. Of course, neither is the average Female keen on a house-husband.

So the Old Roles are modified a bit, but not that changed. essentially! And honestly - barring a few unconventional equations here and there - I'm not sure that they ever truly will...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The 'One Thing'

Since the debate refuses to abate, here are my thoughts. Put down for posterity so I have ready reference material when my daughter and I need to have this conversation!

In the beginning
God - whichever one you believe in - created a virus in the image of man. And woman. Now the trick to spreading the virus quickly and effectively was to have it replicate on its own.

So He invented sex. Yes, I will refer to God as 'He' because I think our Creator must have been a guy. Had it been a woman, certainly She would've given us periods annually - not every month!

But you see, God's primary motive in adding the sex angle was not pleasure but reproduction. The fact that it was pleasurable, of course, offered the incentive to undertake the activity.

As an added safety feature, to ensure perpetuation of his invention, God gave man a reproductive organ with a mind of its own. One that did not always and necessarily obey the commands from the High Command.

This hardwiring has complicated life for Modern Day Man. Say you meet a nice girl, and there is a mutual attraction. The High Command says, Wait! Take it easy. Get to know her. Be a gentleman.

But whether he likes it or not, the 'reproduce' circuit is also switched on and it sends really powerful signals...

Doesn't this also happen to women? Well, some believe it did in the Caveman era, but centuries of social conditioning, Mills & Boon novels and mushy films have had their evil effect. Although it looks like God wired us differently to begin with.

First of all, since women were the ones stuck with the unwanted side-effect ("badhaai ho, aap maa banne waali hain") they were bound to be much more cautious and see a big red "Stop" sign.

Advances in birth control have partially taken care of that factor, but it goes deeper.

Why Viagra doesn't work
The latest on the subject is that after eight years of tests involving 3,000 women, Pfizer, the company behind Viagra, has abandoned efforts to prove that the drug works for females too.

"It is the confirmation that men have long dreaded. Scientists have concluded that women achieve most sexual satisfaction through the stimulation of their brain and not any other organ...."

An excerpt of the report:
Exhaustive research has concluded that men and women have a fundamentally different relationship between arousal and desire. A women's arousal is triggered by a network of emotional, intellectual and relationship-based factors rather than the simple physical response required by a man.

While a man's arousal almost always led to a desire for sex, there was no such obvious corresponding factor with women.... Men consistently get erections in the presence of naked women and want to have sex. With women, things depend on a myriad of factors."

In early trials where women were dosed with Viagra while watching erotic videos, the drug appeared to work. But further studies found that even though Viagra induced a greater pelvic blood flow, the women did not feel substantially more aroused. Therefore, Pfizer is now concentrating on finding drugs that affect a woman's brain chemistry.

The fact that the earth only moves for women if they think it does comes as no surprise to many leading female sexologists.

It has long been held in these circles that a women has an emotional libido . The only surprise has been that it has taken many hours of research and thousands of pounds to conclude something that is blindingly obvious...

That's why the whole porn industry is geared towards men and the romance industry towards women! As the old saying goes: girls use sex to get love, and guys use love to get sex.

'The One Thing'
So getting back to my original comment, the point is that a girl needs affection, understanding and emotion - after which sex may follow.

However, many girls have a physical relationship hoping to get their core needs fulfilled later. Only to find that doesn't always happen. And when it doesn't, it's extremely hurtful and demeaning.

Because the guy may actually just be scratching his reproductive itch, and have no emotions for her to begin with.

Now you may argue that sex will lead to an emotional bonding. Possible, but dicey. Guys do have a concept of women who they will sleep around or 'have fun' with, and women who 'mean more'. Women for whom they feel something in their brains and not just in their briefs.

Even in more 'liberated' countries, the casual and meaningless sexual encounter may be common but not necessarily fulfilling for the woman. A recent report from the UK reveals that despite the fact that both men and women experience their first intercourse at age 16, there remain gender differences in the experience of the event.

Women are twice as likely as men to regret their first experience of intercourse and three times as likely to report being the less willing partner.

Something to keep in mind before you make your decision...

And finally...
That brings me back to my original bit of advice for Nivedita: Make sure your boyfriend respects you and loves you for who you are, not just how you look.

And if I ever have a son I will tell him the same, although in a slightly different way: Make sure your girlfriend is someone you would feel proud enough to bring home and introduce to me.

Someone who makes you feel good - and feels good.

Case closed.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Boy, oh boy!

My daughter casually asked me last evening," Mummy, did you have a boyfriend in college?"

I was - let me admit - a bit taken aback.

Of course, I have always told myself, I will be open and frank in discussing anything and everything with her. I won't ho-hum when it's time to have the 'conversation' my mom attempted when it was rather too late. Not that it was actually a conversation.

The gist of the mother-knows-best lecture was: "Boys want only one thing... be careful... save yourself for marriage..." Wisdom from a different time and era, which addressed none of the *real* issues.

So I'm glad that she can ask me such questions without a hint of embarassment. But at 5 years and 10 months of age? Um, I wasn't quite prepared...

Still, I decided to be truthful and said "Yes."

But it didn't stop at that. "What was his name," she wanted to know.

Here, I ducked - for now - by claiming, "I've forgotten his name, beta.... " and she didn't pursue the matter any further.

Why did I lie? Because I really don't have good memories of that first boyfriend. But the relationship did teach me some important lessons which I shall, from time to time, attempt to imprint into her impressionable young head.

It's all about respect
I think the immediate stimulus for Nivedita's 'boyfriend' question was a conversation the RJs were having on Radio Mirchi which we happened to be tuned to:

RJ1: Aapka favourite college kaun sa tha?
RJ2: Mine was Podar
RJ1: Why?
RJ2: Because of the girls yaar!

In Nivedita's mind, going to college and having a boyfriend are becoming firmly interconnected. This is something she has picked up from the movies and TV she's been exposed to. Not that I don't try to make sure she watches stuff 'appropriate for her age' but hell, even Popeye and Mickey Mouse have girlfriends...

What I want her to internalise is this: It's wonderful if you do happen to meet and vibe with someone in a special way when you join college. But perfectly OK if you don't. And that 'everyone has a boyfriend' is not the right reason, at all.

I, for one, know I was in love with the idea of being in love. My first foray into Boyfriendland was an absolute disaster! The bloke was a good looking, crew cut NDA cadet and had a nice bike. But he was an absolute ditz in the IQ and ethics department.

Yet, even when I knew he wasn't quite the guy I should be wasting my time on, it was very hard to break up. Because 'someone' is better than no one.

Which is wrong. No one is better than a relationship which lacks respect.

And you might think that this is something everyone knows, but I see many many young people stuck in these kind of relationships - justifying them for this very same reason.

The greatest love of all, as Whitney Houston once sang, is learning to love yourself. And that, dear Nivedita, is what I want for you before you go out and find yourself a boyfriend...

And yes, boys do really want 'only one thing', but that will be the subject of another conversation. Watch this space!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Da VC Code

Designer Lascelles Symons offered the following gyaan on 'what to wear during monsoon' to a TV news channel:
a) Lots of colour
b) Avoid white
c) Keep it short.

Enlightening, I say! But I guess his clients aren't the kind who really need to budge out of their houses and get their Manolos wet... And certainly they've never seen the inside of trains and buses!

Meanwhile, the man whom the Mirror calls the 'city's latest dress designer' - the Vice Chancellor of Bombay University - has his own views on the subject. He wants to impose a dress code on students, especially female ones. The idea being to 'dress decently' and not as if in a fashion show.

The VC has therefrore stipulated the following:
* Salwar Kameez — but no deep neck. Sleeveless will do
* T-shirts that do not have a deep neckline or expose the navel
* Jeans, but no low-waist

Not allowed:
* Short skirts
* Body-hugging tops
* Sleeveless tops
* Shorts
* Tank tops

Are knee length pants OK? What about a tank top worn inside a shirt...And Visible Panty Line?? Should the V-C be, at all, concerned with such questions?? !!

Where's the problem, anyways
I for one, am wondering which colleges in Mumbai the V-C visited which necessitated this policy statement.

If anything, for several years now, the trend on campuses across Mumbai has been to 'dress down'. Jeans - with kurtas or tshirts and colourful accessories are pretty much the standard uniform. You'd be hard pressed, really, to find those shorts/ mini-skirts.

I can say that because JAM regularly visits campuses to shoot for its fashion section. In a feature we did at KC and HR (some of the more fashion-conscious colleges in Mumbai), 4 out of 5 students we shot would have met the VC's 'no exposure' guidelines. And even the one girl in a 'short skirt' doesn't look indecent or provocative in the least!

I think the concept of 'decency' itself has broadened considerably. Sleeveless t shirts might have been 'provocative' 20 years ago... At one time my grandmother had a huge problem with my mom wearing sleeveless blouses, I remember.

Today, 'music video' costumes would probably be 'indecent' outside clubs. But which girls are trying to wear such outfits - and travel in buses and autos - anyways?

Rebels for no cause
As elementary psychology will tell you: telling hormonally charged young people 'what to do' is the surest way to get them NOT to do it. It's inciting a rebellion among a population which, on its own, had chosen to be pretty boring and conformist in most respects, including hemlines.

'Woh kaun hota hai hamein rokne waala' are the kind of soundbytes pimply teens are giving to TV crews.

Parents and individual principals were enough to police errant kids. The V-C has more urgent matters to attend to - relating to what is being taught - or not - in a university which is way behind the needs and aspirations of modern India.

But, like Nero, he prefers to fiddle while Kalina burns.

Bschools: behave or else...

AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education) has issued detailed guidelines which b schools will have to follow, reports the Times of India.

But, I have doubts whether anything will really change. For example, AICTE has asked the state fee committee to fix fees taking into account the 'core structure of the course'. Wonder what the hell that means!

B schools are able to charge the amount they do today because there is an insatiable demand for the MBA course. And only a very limited supply of quality institutes. But who's to decide how much a course is 'worth'?

Full time faculty and infrastructure are the two main components of 'cost' for an institute. Most b schools - including some very well known ones like Bajaj - manage with 10% full time professors. and 90% visiting faculty.

So some kind of formula could definitely be worked out... but who's to do the job and ensure that everyone accepts it? AICTE hardly seems prepared to take up the challenge.

What AICTE does...
Is issue guidelines. Its 'declare-or-else' threat-list is admirable in scope. Bschools are being asked to share detailed details on no of seats, cut off marks for admission, and even placement statistics of last two years with minimum, maximum and average salary.

The question is - who will verify this information?

The magazines who undertake B school rankings also attempt to collect and validate such details, with the help of professional market research agencies. But given the large number of institutes - and the many ways available to embroider the truth - even they are unable to nail those who exaggerate or ovesatte claims.

Additionally, B schools with foreign collaborations are being asked to disclose the accreditation and ranking of the foreign institute in its home country, among other details. But many b schools - such as IIPM with its 'IMI, Europe' collaboration - are not approved by AICTE in the first place.

Bottomline: At worst, AICTE can derecognise an institute which refuses to follow its diktat. How many students however really CARE whether they are joining an AICTE approved B school? And recruiters don't seem to, either

AICTE itself needs to go on a MASSIVE brand building exercise.As well as improve its own credibility. By behaving like a typical government department and giving accreditation to unworthy institutions it has lost the high moral ground it is now seeking to re-conquer.

Frankly, I think a new and more powerful 'stamp' of quality from an independent body is now required to help separate the good from the ghatiya and worse, the ghotaalebaaz.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Card Sharks

Getting a call from Citibank cards is like getting called to your school principal's office. Most of the time, not a pleasant experience.

Well, in the backdrop of the current Sun expose on Indian BPO employees selling credit card information, I have my own little experience to recount.

Citibank: Ma'am I'm calling from Chennai to inform you your card has been 'compromised'.

By whom, what, where - she wouldn't say. But Visa has put my card - which has not been used for many months now - on a watchlist. And so it is being replaced.

Global gichpich
Identity theft and card fraud has become a massive global 'business'. As a report by Tom Zeller in the New York Times dt Jun 21, 05 reveals:

"Want live in premium hotels? Want own beautiful girls? It's possible with dumps from Zo0mer." A "dump," in the blunt vernacular of a relentlessly flourishing online black market, is a credit card number. And what Zo0mer is peddling is stolen account information - name, billing address, phone - for Gold Visa cards and MasterCards at $100 apiece.

It is not clear whether any data stolen from CardSystems Solutions, the payment processor reported on Friday to have exposed 40 million credit card accounts to possible theft, has entered this black market. But law enforcement officials and security experts say it is a safe bet that the data will eventually be peddled at sites like - its very name a swaggering shorthand for International Association for the Advancement of Criminal Activity.

... The Federal Trade Commission estimates that roughly 10 million Americans have their personal information pilfered and misused in some way or another every year, costing consumers $5 billion and businesses $48 billion annually...

A patient criminal will wait until the day a victim receives a billing statement. "That way you have a full 30 days" before the victim is likely to look over his account again, explained one frank tutorial collected by the F.B.I.

What's more, it's estimated that only about 5 percent of cybercriminals are ever caught. And this is one area where IT pros from Russia and eastern Europe are far bigger dadas than Indians, working in BPOs or otherwise.

I am - in no way - condoning apna BPO employee's actions. But supply exists because there is demand.

In this case, it's not like the Sun reporter stepped out of Indira Gandhi airport and was offered stolen credit card numbers. He went looking for people to sell it to him. And yes, there he succeeded.

I am sure British call centre workers may also have obliged the reporter - had he cared to try. Although not for a paltry 4 pounds a piece!

As Steven Spielberg's Minority Report so imaginatively depicted it, there will always be a black market for identities. Today it's credit card numbers, but if and when we go biometric - it could be fingerprints and retinas...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hum aapke hain corn

India is the cradle of civilisation, say the history textbooks. Well, seems to me it's also the birthplace of a million different vegetables.

The average Indian is acquainted with far, far more veggies than any Western man. It could be my imagination but vegetables - when referred to with their Indian names - conjure up a completely different meaning.

Say, cauliflower and peas. To the Western palate that would be a side-dish made edible with salt, pepper and butter. A form of par-boiled punishment.

Alu-gobhi on the other hand, is warm, fragrant and inviting on a chilly winter afternoon in north India. Though it does evoke a 'not again!' feeling when you open your school tiffin box... at times.

Beyond potatos, peas, carrots spinach and aubergine, Western man has alternatives like asparagus, leeks and artichokes. The Indian has bhindi, kaddu, lauki, tindli, turai, methi, karela...

Everyone has at least one of those veggies on their hate-list but often with time and the right preparation that changes. I absolutely love baingan ka bharta and stuffed karela - things I never ever touched in my childhood.

Firang Sabzis seek stomachs

Of late, we are being invaded by new, foreign vegetables. The runaway success in this race is 'sweet corn'.

Three years ago, it was something rare and exotic. Now, 'American sweet corn' is everywhere. In supermarkets, at roadside vendors, at multiplexes and malls (where 'corn in a cup' - 4 different flavours - has become a popular snack). And of course the classic 'sweet corn veg' Chinese soup.

Lettuce - which has been around longer - remains a veggie for health-conscious, upmarket types. MAybe because salad is not exactly an integral part of the Indian diet and lettuce can't be eaten in any other form.

Mushroom is popular - but nowhere near the levels of sweet corn. Because again its an acquired taste and alien texture. Plus, the fact that it's technically a fungus puts off some communities like Jains.

Sweet corn on the other hand is a variation on a veggie we know and love - the bhutta. And it's sweet which means everyone (and especially the Gujjus) love it.

Besides, several fast food concoctions like corn bhel and corn chaat have quickly been invented and it's being promoted as a 'zero fat' snack. (if you choose to overlook the dollops of butter on top!)

What's in a name?
And being called 'American sweet corn' is an added bonus. Because names do matter. Studies of consumer psychology show that descriptive labels and dishes evoke more interest. "Tender Grilled Chicken" sells better than "Grilled Chicken" and "Grandma's Zucchini Cookies" outsold "Zucchini Cookies."

The theory being that people transfer the positive associations they have with those descriptors to the food itself.

So American sweet corn definitely had higher chances of success than plain sweet corn. Or Bangladeshi sweet corn

Of course, it's both a demand and supply side story. The farmers are smarter today - they quickly scent a 'cash crop'. After strawberries, sweet corn was noticed as the 'Next Big Thing' and Mahabaleshwar has gone completely corny.

Which is great. More supply = more reasonable prices. As Axl Rose might've put it... Woahhhh woah woah Sweet Corn of Mine!

Why Sania shines

There are those who think Sania Mirza is overrated. Overhyped, maybe. But not overrated. If you watched her match last night against Kuznetsova you would know why I say this.

Sania lost, but I am convinced she will win Wimbledon someday. I don't say that because I 'hope' an Indian will win and do our country proud. I say it out of the conviction about her natural - and nurtured - talents.

Now you might say - she is talented.
So are others.

She is driven, she is determined.
Well, so are many others (esp. those Russians!)

I just think she has 'it'. The look and attitude of a winner.

She has been lucky enough to find something she is naturally good at - plus she has the fire inside which makes her keep wanting to do it better.

Many of us are round pegs stuck in square holes. By choice or circumstance, some of us find the slot in which our individual talent fits perfectly. And of course, then we have to work hard - really hard - to hone that talent.

But when the combination of those two things occurs - you have the 'X' factor. This X factor gives you a fire within and you glow that little bit brighter.

Sania glows. And unless internal reasons (like ego) or external reasons (like injury) slow her down... this girl will certainly 'go the distance'.

Mirror Mirror II

The Mumbai Mirror has finally strated getting it right. Unlike the first few days when it came across as a pale shadow of Midday and a repeat of TOI (at least page 1 headlines), Mirror has finally found its own style -and voice.

From vague stories like 'Freehold bonanza' they've graduated to attention grabbing people pieces with kitschy and catchy headlines. Inside too, there's a better mix of things to read and some of the minor irritants have been removed.

So Mirror is now on my afternoon reading list while Afternoon is out. The paper had a certain old world charm while Busybee was alive - and if he still were I'd happily pay 3 bucks a day just to read his column. But not for the reprints of his old columns!

But sadly, just as Mirror is finding its feet, it's being jerked into a new direction. From a stand-alone paper it will now start going 'free with The Times of India'.

Why? Because DNA is launching on July 21. The idea being that with an extra paper coming home, anyone wanting to buy DNA is going to think twice... And yeah, the side benefit (they hope) is Midday will also get hit.

Mirror as strategy, not product
Mirror is to the TOI stable what Thums Up was to Coke. A tactical weapon. Except unlike Thums Up it is a new brand with no heritage or loyalty. And whatever loyal readers it does manage will soon start getting upset with the paper's fickle and ever changing nature.

Because this is just the first of Mirror's many avatars. Whatever DNA does - Mirror will 'mirror' it (yeah, it's aptly named).

The problem is ...
Free sampling over a prolonged period is never a good idea. You can sample once, or twice - giving it indefinitely devalues the paper. It makes it raddi.

It's been tried before. In the 90s, TOI's second morning daily The Independent went free with the Economic Times for almost a year. After that, it was offered at Rs 1 to the reader. And was rejected.

In its 6 years of existence The Independent changed as many colours (literally). It was launched to kill off Vijaypat Singhania's Indian Post (which it did), then to take on the Reliance backed Business and Political Observer (which was stillborn).

The Independent at various times was priced at Rs 2, Rs 4, free, Rs 1 and went not only pink but even had experimental pista green supplements... In the end, having outlived its use as a tactical weapon (with no competition left!) - it was quietly buried.

So perhaps the Boss is right. This tactical strategy does work... But what if your rival has really really deep pockets? And won't get scared off so easily??

There are interesting - and uncharted - times ahead!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Dare to dream beyond" or ...

Almost every week I get email queries from students who want to know whether joining IIPM is "worth it". Reason being the full page ads the b school puts out in leading newspapers where it claims to be as good or even better than IIMs.

Well, we at JAM decided to check out some of those claims, namely the "rankings", infrastructure, placements and accreditation of the institute. The result is an article Arjun Ravi put together after extensive research. Read it and decide for yourself!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Makeover mania

Don't rub your eyes - that IS Ekta Kapoor. India's K serial queen, famous for her 'I don't give a damn how I look' vibes. Here she is - new, improved and almost pleasant looking on the cover of the in-flight magazine of Kingfisher airlines.

See what a difference a bit of warpaint, highlights and better styling can do! Though you don't really need an expert to tell you to lose the Tirupati-Balaji-tikka (God will understand - it just doesn't go with ALL outfits!).

I have a feeling this new look is linked to Ekta turning 30. It's just the milestone which makes you re-examine your life. Or, maybe she's just caught the makeover virus currently in the air!

Makeover mania
Two centuries ago Hans Christian Andersen wrote his classic 'Ugly Duckling' tale. And India is currently reliving that fable. Except here we don't just wake up from hibernation and turn into swans. We have an army of experts helping us do it.

It all started with Jassi's much awaited transformation from plain Jane to glam puss. A host of other telly-characters from Zee's Kareena to Sony's Pooja (Yeh meri life hai) followed - although with far less fanfare.

Now, there are makeovers happening everywhere...
NDTV Profit gives ordinary middle aged folk makeovers with the help of fashion/ make up gurus (a concept copied from similar foreign shows but nevertheless)

Social butterfly Queenie Dhody gives makeovers to readers of Midday

Companies like L'Oreal and Vichy hold events in malls where women can walk in for a '15 minute makeover' (and hopefully go home with half a dozen of their products)

A big leap
A decade ago, if you went to a beauty parlour for shaadi ka make-up the lady there would coat you with a thick pancake of foundation and bright lipstick - regardless of your skin type/ outfit/ complexion. The effect was horrendous but was the prevailing standard.

I have a whole album of hilarious wedding photos to prove it ...

Today, the beautician is far more skilled and client far more aware - and such disasters are hence averted! Even my 5 year old daughter knows how to apply lipstick (though she isn't allowed to - except for special occassions).

Why bother
There are those who lament the new emphasis on looks but I think it's a good thing. I grew up believing 'looks don't really matter' - which is hogwash. They do.

I'm not saying one should be obsessed with them, but yes - taking a little extra care to be well groomed and presentable can make a big difference for two reasons:
1) People who believe they look good feel more confident and that reflects in how they deal with the world.
2) It may be an evolutionary thing but human beings are programmed to place a value on "looks".

As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently wrote, "... We’ve seen those studies showing that aesthetics is hard-wired in the brain - that even babies have an innate sense of beauty, choosing to gaze longer at lovelier faces."

But here's the stunner: Still, the headline yesterday in Science Times was jolting: “Ugly Children May Get Parental Short Shrift.” As Nicholas Bakalar wrote: “Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.”

She goes on to talk about the economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle whose study notes that being tall, slender and attractive could be worth a "beauty premium" - an extra 5 percent an hour - while there is a "plainness penalty" of 9 percent in wages (after factoring out other issues).

The crux of the matter: No one seems sure whether bosses discriminate against people because they're less attractive, or whether more attractive people develop more self-esteem and social finesse.

May as well then do what you can to be more attractive - if only for yourself! More than what a makeover does externally, it achieves internally.

How far should we go? Personally, I would draw the line at surgery (unless it's a case of birth defect/ accidental deformity etc). If what you have already can be enhanced and highlighted by using the right make-up or getting a good haircut or losing some weight sensibly - I'm all for it!

There can however be too much of a good thing. Dan Ondrack, a professor at the University of Toronto, believes there's a "Boopsey" effect - if women are too gorgeous, people assume they are airheads.

So, women who want to be taken seriously need to adopt the right balance. Menka Doshi at CNBC - who's suddenly lost the specs and slapped on frosted lipstick - might want to think about that ...

Monday, June 20, 2005

As gold as it gets

Indians love to buy gold. Lots and lots of it. The younger junta would rather buy diamonds now but if and when you get married I bet you will end up buying (or receiving as a gift) one bhaari bharkam 'gold set' .

That you may keep it in the bank locked up until it's time to pass on to your own offspring is another story!

Sold on gold
In the old days, you bought gold from a trusted family sunaar or goldsmith. Not that these sunaars were actually worthy of that trust. 22 karat gold was invariably adulterated and actually only 20 or even 18 karat gold.

Over time, the smarter 'family goldsmiths' made the transition to large, opulent showrooms. And though most share the common community name 'Zaveri', each is a brand in its own right.

But rest assured you are still buying on 'trust'. Every shop promises you can return your jewellery and get full paisa waapas at the prevailing sone ka bhaav(minus 'making charges'). Take the same jewellery to another shop and the fellow will shake his head and say,"Isme to milawat hai."

Given this scenario it would seem that branded gold jewellery was 'just what the doctor ordered'. In the early 90s, Tanishq entered the market with the promise of "purity". Their initial promo invited you to bring your gold and test it at their shops - to see how much ghotala your 'trusted' jeweller is actually committing.

But you know what - despite knowing you are most likely being cheated - we continue to patronise the zaveris. Tanishq - for all its promise - remains a small corporate player in a vast unorganised market.

Why unbranded still rules
Possibly because
a) Its locations suck: In Mumbai, Tanishq has a showroom at Churchgate. And not in Zaveri bazaar or Opera house where people go to buy jewellery. That makes no sense. Wherever there is a Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri or Waman Hari Pethe - hell or highwater - I'd want Tanishq next door!

Just like wherever there's a Barista, there's a Cafe Coffee Day - so the consumer who's decided on a coffee fix can easily walk into either!

b) They don't 'sell' well: A good salesperson can make or break a sale. Jewellery showrooms, like sari emporiums, require a special breed of salesperson. One with an intimate understanding of the woman's psyche - and in many cases the husband/ mother in law in tow.

The salesperson needs to keep showing you more pieces ("dekhiye na, dekhne ka koi tax nahin") without getting upset. Ordering tea, making small talk, offering subtle positive reinforcements - going the extra distance.

I swear the last time my mom went jewellery shopping she walked out with something 50% more expensive than what she'd intended to buy. And the sales lady was at least 50% responsible for the decision.

At Tanishq, the salespeople are polite and helpful but at the end of the day, they are employees of a company. If you walk in at 7.45 and the shop closes at 8 pm. they're more in a hurry to shut shop and head home than make a sale.

Whereas the zaveri's salespeople are additionally motivated by commissions -and the difference shows.

c) Not enough variety: Although they advertise a huge range, not every showroom actually stocks all the pieces. So sometimes you just aren't satisfied on that count. Seeing 50 kinds of bangles or 100 different saris - in order to buy ONE - is actually part of the whole experience

Getting it right
But the reason I am actually writing about Tanishq is to commend them for a new initiative.

Finally, a company which has realised that arbit 'product placement' does absolutely nothing for the brand. Something I hope many other marketers - and especially those of youth brands - learn from and follow.

In the new Shahrukh-Rani starrer Paheli, Tanishq has engineered a product placement. Rani, who plays a traditional Rajasthani girl, wears Tanishq jewellery throughout the film. But the brand receives a mention only in the credits.

The strategy is to publicise the fact that Rani is wearing Tanishq through promos in other mediums - make it a talking point - and sell a 'Paheli collection' in Tanishq stores. In an interview to Businessworld,
the brand manager asserts that "ever since the publicity campaign was launched, footfalls in Tanishq stores have almost doubled".

Here's wishing the strategy is a success and that the likes of Subhash Ghai take note. The scene in Yaadein where the mother is dying and the camera inadvertently or otherwise focuses on a Coca cola keychain was one of the worst moments in Bollywood product placement history!

A good product placement is effortless, and integral to the story. Hrithik Roshan asking for Bournvita in 'Koi Mil Gaya' the first time he went to Preity's house was a great one. You're not even sure if Cadbury's paid for that (they did)

Here's to more creative answers to the product placement paheli!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

What's love got to do with it?

"So, when are you having another baby?" is a question I'm often asked. And the reason I'm told I should have one is - "children need a companion".

Looking at the Anil-Mukesh saga - and hundreds of similar sagas among lesser mortals all around us - I have to say, there is simply NO guarantee that you and your sibling are going to get along for life.

So having extra kids just to give the first one a 'friend' is, I think, not a good enough reason. Not anymore.

Zamaana badal gaya
"Things fall apart," wrote the novelist Chinua Achebe. "The centre cannot hold..." And that describes - exactly - what is happening to the whole concept of family. In India and the world over.

The "centre" was based on two principles:
a) Zaroorat - or need
b) Farz - or duty

In the caveman era, we hunted and lived in packs - it was a matter of basic needs: security, survival.

In time, religion brought in values like "Honor thy father" (every faith has its own version - but similar in spirit).

So that was farz - or duty - which bound us to each other. Although one had to sacrifice some amount of individuality on the altar of farz, in return you gained an identity and some amount of social security (the family/ community would always be there for you).

And what about love, you might ask. Isn't love what really keeps families together? To which I must say - love is a factor. But minus farz and zaroorat it's just not sticky enough.

Hum saath saath kyun rahein?
That's a question families across India have been asking over the last couple of decades. The answer is - we don't have to.

In fact contrary to what Kyunki Saas may depict, the modern day mother-in-law is often quite clear that SHE would rather not stay with son and bahu.

Tum apni zindagi jeeyo, hum apni - I've heard more than one aunt say. In good humour on the surface, but deadly serious really!

On the other hand, some bahus (esp working women) choose to live with their in-laws reasoning it will be good for their kids. So again, that's zaroorat kicking in.

Paise ki maaya
Income levels have everything to do with it. Money can't buy you love, sang the Beatles but what's clear is it can certainly create a lot of acrimony where love once existed.

There's a general pattern to family break-ups:
a) Poor-to-Rich phase: Your extended family is an asset. You have nothing else, so your gain your wellbeing from your relationships.

b) Rich-to-Things Fall Apart phase: Brothers who once ate sukhi roti from the same thaali, lubricated by the ghee of filial love, now eat rasmalai in fine china plates.

But one starts feeling the other's plate is fancier. Or rasmalai sweeter. Spouses too play a role here ...

Now often brothers will live and work together for years, despite these feelings. But once the patriarch of the family passes away - things fall apart. Farz - or duty - is no more.

Then, comes the question of zaroorat Do we really NEED each other - or can we manage our lives/ business quite well alone, thank you?

In the Anil-Mukesh saga the feeling of zaroorat pretty much evaporated. Which is why it became impossible for them to co-exist.

c) Separate-but-Social phase: We meet, we smile - at birthdays and weddings. But - in most cases - it's never ever going to be one big happy family. Except in faded photographs.

I say this because I have SEEN things fall apart in my own extended family. The love and togetherness my 3 chachas once shared living in a cramped 3 room house didn't survive the tectonic shift to a two storeyed mansion.

Things have fallen so apart that certain people don't even talk to certain other people.

Pyaar kiya to kya..
So that's the extended family bit. But even with the nuclear family, it's more often zaroorat and farz which keeps things together.

If you go in for an arranged marriage - love in any case, you hope, follows the event. Or is born out of it.

And if you have a love marriage, 5 years down the line what keeps many couples together is the joint 'projects' - your kids, your mortgage, your status in society.

And I'm not saying that is a BAD thing as long as if not love, there is at least 'like a lot' in the picture...

When we talk of commitment - what is it but farz anyways? Partly imposed by society, and partly a value we choose to commit ourselves to. While "love" at the end of the day is a zaroorat... A basic human need.

But the need for space - and individuality - is becoming more and more important. And these needs are at odds with 'love'. And a million mutinies are born everyday...

Rain ware

Indian fashion designers put out spring-summer collections and fall-winter collections. Although we barely have a 'spring' and certainly don't have a fall.

Meanwhile, the one important season that we actually do have - monsoon - gets little or no consideration.

The first day it rains you feel wonderful. The days and weeks that follow - 'icky' is more like it. Blame it on the travel conditions (a couple of heavy showers can disrupt the whole city for 2 days). The half-dug roads which turn into a sea of keechad. And the lethargy of having to get out of your house at all ...

But things would be slightly more tolerable if one had more suitable clothes - and shoes - to wear. There is tons of waterproof make up available but unless you're willing to don nylon or polyster (which neither looks nor feels good) - no such luck in clothing.

Surely some copmany can do some R & D and produce 'monsoon-ready' fabric that dries quickly. And if someone can do that for denim, I for one would happily become a lifelong patron.

But ok - maybe that kind of thing is ambitious and will take some years. What about someting as basic as shoes? Your options are orange plastic (yuck!), squelchy rubber (also yuck!!). Something that does the job (of keeping ur feet dry) AND looks good I am yet to find.

Problem is, few countries experience the kind of rains we do. In England, it rains - but more pitter-patter raindrops than kutte-billi. So we'll probably have to design products ourselves rather than copy/ adapt from elsewhere.

Or wait for the Chinese to do it for us. Thanks to them, we have - at least ! - graduated to more colourful and interesting umbrellas and windcheaters.

The solution - for now - is keep some extra clothes and shoes in your workplace, so in case you get wet you don't spend the whole day feeling like a soggy sandwich.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Great Indian Laughter Challenge

It is a lot harder to make people laugh than to make them cry. But after years of success at the latter - thanks to the saas bahu series of soap sagas - Indian television is finally attempting to tickle our funny bones.

Ironically, the first memorable show on Indian TV way back in 1983 was a sitcom - Kundan Shah's Yeh jo hai zindagi. It is an all time classic. But nothing quite lived upto that for the next two decades.

Indian television comedies were pretty much 'lowest common denominator' - loud and slapstick. 'Hum Paanch' was maybe, slightly tolerable, only because characters like Kaajal bhai and the dead wife on the wall (Priya Tendulkar) were imaginative (relatively speaking).

But, now the drought is finally ending. With 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai' Star One finally has a winner.

Saaru chhe
Sarabhai has all the elements necessary for a good sitcom -
1) A small but clearly defined cast of characters (like Rosesh the duffer son who writes insufferable poetry)
2) An inherent - and exaggerated - clash of values producing comic situations (the sophisticated saas vs the middle class bahu).
3) Great acting (not just the big names like Ratna Pathak Shah, Satish Shah - everyone plays their parts well!)
4) Great scripts and dialogue
5) Consistency

Sarabhai is (very loosely) inspired by Dharma and Greg but has a life and locus quite its own. The same team (Jamnadas Majethia & Aatish Kapadia) also writes, produces and directs another weekly sitcom - Instant Khichdi.

Khichdi started life on Star Plus and was later migrated to Star One. In the process the Gujarati family whose antics the show features also suddenly become crorepatis looking for new - and hilarious - ways and means to spend their money.

Instant Khichdi is also entertaining but of late the Praful-Hansa PJs have lost their zing. Sarabhai is more sophisticated - and relies less on physical comedy - and hence gets my vote as India's no 1 television sitcom.

Talent galore

What's more, the Great Indian Laughter Challenge - also aired on Star One - is on a hunt for India's "hasi ka baadsha'. And is definitely worth a watch. Last night I was struck by the originality and style of the two finalists who were both so good that the judges and audience declared a tie.

While the other contestants merely related jokes - although with considerable chutzpah - the two who made it to the last round were stand up comics in the true sense. They used their own accents/ background/ world around them to create a very unique and personal brand of humour.

The Hyderabadi chap used his Hyderabadiness to great effect. His song 'Usne Paaya Khaaya' (usne including Bill Kalinton, Mrs Kalinton, Pervez Musharraf, Adnan Sami, and even Saddam Hussein) was absolutely hilarious. But hilarious while making a larger point - which is what the best humour is about.

Deepak Raja from Jalandhar put his own mama, chacha, foofas and taayas to good use while scripting his routine. The fact that he was dressed in an abonimable pink suit teamed with a flowery shirt didn't matter at all. What he said and the way he said it was so ... funny!

India has a long tradition of haasya kavi sammelans where little known and well known poets gather. These kavis wring out humour from everyday Indian life - some of it, truly priceless.

These kavis - and other homegrown talents like Deepak and his Hyderabadi counterpart - are the ones who will really raise the standards of humour in India.

And by the way, will someone PLEASE give Navjot Singh Sidhu his own show. Whatever you may feel about his cricket commentary (in English) Sidhu is amazing in Hindi. Witty AND insightful (he hosted a show on Red FM last week and was very very good).

As a judge on the 'Laughter Challenge' he laughs easily and loudly. A man jiske dil mein koi gile shikve nahin hain. Shekhar Suman on the other hand is stiff and 'professional'. Plus he wears dark glasses - on air!

Yeh hai attitude
Shekhar Suman: Sidhuji bataiye, jab log Sardars ke baare mein jokes sunaate hain, aapko kabhi bura toh nahin lagta

Sidhu: Kabhi nahin! Chaand ke upar agar koi thooke toh kya use daag lag sakta hai??!!

If more of us believed that - instead of taking 'offence' easily when the joke's on us - the world would resound more often with laughter.

And yeah, the 'chaand' analogy applies to blogging - and anonymous, rude commenters too.

On the nightshift

I couldn't sleep last night. So I got up and switched on the FM radio at 3.15 am. Go 92.5 FM was playing a series of not-so-well-known - although pleasant - English songs.

A while ago Go decided to accept that there is no life without Hindi music and went 70: 30 (Bollywood: English Pop). I think at the time the Boss must've said, "Look - you can play WHATEVER you want at night (when no one's listening anyways...)".

Initially the station was rather apologetic about 'having' to play Hindi but over time they've struck a good balance. Their songs are slightly less faltu than Mirchi (which will even play 80s Sridevi/ Jaya Prada numbers - some of the most horrendous music ever created).

And Go's RJs have more interesting banter and better chemistry - esp. Jaggu and Tarana in the mornings.

Whatever the quality of the films we are producing, the Bollywood music machine sure is getting better and better. Thanks to the 'item number' culture even the flop films produce a couple of catchy 'radio' songs.

Agreed, some of the best stuff - like Woh Lamhe - is inspired or hijacked. But there's enough originality around for one not to get worried. Dhadak dhadak (Bunty aur Babli), Piyu Bole (Parineeta) and even the Kaal title song are testimony.

They're unlikely to be 'classics' remembered fondly 20 years from now but that's what pop is mostly - a quick and easy musical snack. How many of us can recall Rick Astley or the Bangles... two of my favourite pop artistes back in the '80s!!

Jaago Mohan pyaare
Incidentally, someone believes people DO listen to FM at 3 am which is why Go's 'Nightshift' is sponsored by E-serve - the financial services BPO. I bet it's the idea of some clever media planner ("Who's awake at night? BPO workers!")

Except they would - should - be busy working. Taking or making calls, not listening to FM on those big black headsets!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Death by Cellphone

You're sitting in a movie theatre and suddenly a cellphone somewhere nearby goes rrrrring! What's more the receiver invariably picks up and starts yakking. I sometimes have this urge to ask: "Is it a matter of life and death?"

Wish poor Prabir De had stopped to consider that question, before picking up his cellphone.

Mumbai Mirror reports that Prabir, a celeb make up artist (who's worked on the likes of Bipasha Basu, Koena Mitra etc) was on a photoshoot on the outskirts of Kolkata. On a whim, they decide to shoot on some railway tracks.

At some point De's cellphone rang and he took the call. Meanwhile, a train loomed in sight... Friends and onlookers yelled, but De was too involved in the conversation. And the worst happened.

What is this fascination filmakers/ photographers have with trains? Last year, 27 year old British national Nadia Khan - an assistant director with Kaizad Gustad - died after being hit by a train near Mahalaxmi. She too was reportedly speaking on her cellphone.

There's been a lot of speculation on the long term effect of cellphone use (radiation being linked to brain tumours etc). But the short term effect is no less dangerous. The cellphone is a medium which appears to not only distract but suspend common sense.

What else can explain such 'freak accidents'?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Changing the world - starting with yourself

I hesitate to use the word 'hero' to describe the influence this person has had on my life. Because heroes - inevitably - let you down. Suffice it to say that of the many public figures with wide and varied achievements one can possibly look upto, Steve Jobs is the one whom I have admired the most.

When in college I read 'Odyssey: From Pepsi to Apple' and that one line Jobs used to persuade Sculley to join him has stuck with me ever since. 'Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life - or, do you want a chance to change the world?'

It became a kind of guiding principle for my life. Not 'changing the world' in the literal sense but what I think Jobs really meant was you must look for passion - and meaning - in what you choose to do as 'work'.

Which is the point he made in the amazing speech he delivered to the graduating class of Stanford earlier this week. An absolute must-read-and-think-about.

Connect your dots

In his speech, Jobs tells three 'stories'. The first is 'connect your dots'. Where he explains how a calligraphy course he took after officially dropping out of college had a profound impact on his future - and ours.

None of this (calligraphy) had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.

Imagine that! Everything you do - in the end - was somewhoe meant to be. It may not be immediately or practically applicable. It may do nothing for your CV at this moment. But you are the sum total of all your life experiences combined with your inherent talents. Which is why - like I said earlier - we all need to add some zig to our zag.

So, have those 'irrelevant' experiences. Pursue 'useless' interests. Because you never know where those dots may lead you.

As Jobs says: You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

The Second Coming
Elsewhere in his speech Jobs talks about how 'getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.' It forced him to reinvent himself - freed him to enter one of the most creative periods of his life.

Both the companies he started - Pixar and Next led to their own revolutions. Pixar became the pioneer in animated movie-making while Next was bought out by Apple. And the technology developed at Next ultimately led to the rebirth of Apple with the iPod.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. ... If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.

Even if the great Indian mantra is beta, settle down :)

Live each day as if ...
The third 'story' Jobs shared was about death. A few months ago, doctors told him he had merely months to live. Turns out he had a rare - and curable - form of pancreatic cancer. So the death sentence was repealed.

But, he says once more the point hit home: Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life... Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

As a tidal wave of students in India pass out of class 10, 12 and with bachelor's degrees - that's what they really need to sit still and listen to. Their own inner voice.

I can say that with conviction because I'm old enough to 'connect my dots' - and know exactly what Jobs means. But, that is a story I'll save for another day.

Jobs signs off with 'Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish'. You may not want to take that literally - but everything else he said you certainly should!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Foodmart fundas

"By 2010, 90 percent of consumer products (in the US) will be home-delivered. Mothers will give children lists so they can shop for the family's groceries and other necessities over the Internet." - prediction by trends expert Faith Popcorn

Magar yeh hai India. And here, folks are willing to stand in line for an hour on a Sunday evening to check out a cartful of groceries. I landed up at the local Food Bazaar by mistake this weekend in search of cherries. And made a hasty exit from what appeared to be Virar station at rush hour!

It's all so new and exciting, being able to touch-feel-choose products of vast range and variety in air conditioned comfort. The visit to the local foodmart has become the middle class family's new weekend 'outing'. A substitute for the local temple/ Chowpatty.

Especially since - for reasons beyond my understanding - many malls hold 'events' on weekends. The most popular being putting up a stage where tiny tots can jump around to the tunes of the latest Bollywood numbers.

Like website hits were in the dotcom era, so footfalls are sacred in the megamall era. Never mind if most of these feet just come, lurk and linger, eat an 8 buck icecream at Mac and go home satisfied.

The theory being that ek baar chaska lag gaya to baar baar ayenge. Aur kuch na kuch to kharidenge hi.

This is where the grocery shops come in. Buying kirana is the one aspect of shopping that is the housewife's birthright. Which husband can say no to a wife demanding to be taken to shop for her monthly quota of Surf-sabudana and Sanifresh.

Grocery shopping is thus the perfect, guilt-free excuse for visiting the mall. Further, the foodmarts give you the impression of 'big savings'. Which may be true -but only to an extent.

The local Dmart sells 2 kgs of Tide at Rs 87 and claims you save Rs 15. My kiranawala delivered it home and charged Rs 88. The 15 rupee off deal is being offered by P & G - not the retailer. But the way it's advertised, you go home feeling happy about being a wise, thrifty shopper.

Two Kinds of Buyers
Local kiranawalas are under 'threat' from hypermarts but they won't just roll over and die so easily. Because there is a growing segment of customers which will - as Popcorn suggests - require home delivery.

Yuppie singles, couples for whom time is money - they are going to simply pick up the phone and order whatever is needed, whenever it's needed. The large chains also home deliver but not in 10 minutes flat. And not 2 packets of milk.

However, for 10% of their needs these folks will also visit hypermarts because they are becoming places to shop at for interesting new products.

This evening I bought 200-300 bucks worth of stuff more on impulse than need. Stuff which caught my attention and seemed worth trying out including...

Palmolive aromatherapy shower cream (very attractive packaging, smelt nice too)

MTR macaroni and veg chatpata sauce (ready to eat thingie which looked intriguing)

Nestle lassi (didn't know they had lassi! Very nice - will definitely buy again!)

'High Range' strawberry preserve (never heard of brand but label explained this was a product of 'Project Dare' which educates underprivileged kids. So thought... why not try)

I also noticed that Cadbury's has come out with a chocolate sauce (like Hershey's) and there's a new snack called Bollywood bites (packed in Pringles type cans). Neither of these products has been advertised. But a good display in a hypermart is enough to at least induce trials.

Bottomline: If you like to keep in touch with what's new, hypermarts are fun. But visit on weekdays wonly. For everything else, cultivate your friendly neighbourhood kirana shop. He may not accept Visa or Mastercard, but his service and efficiency is priceless.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Recycle Raga

This morning, just as I walked out of my building, a strap on my shoe broke."Damn!" I thought, thinking I'd have to run back up and change into another pair. But then I realised, just 50 metres away, sits a mochi.

Two minutes later, the shoe was as good as new. A shoe that in a more advanced country would have to be chucked into the garbage bin because there would be no one to repair it. And all it cost me was 5 bucks.

What's more, this particular mochi seems to be a pretty satisfied soul. He takes a lot of pride in his work. And workmanship. He doesn't see handling and repairing a shoe as something 'beneath his dignity'.

But, as time goes by, mochis are becoming a rarer species. I doubt their children wish to take up the profession. So, like folks in London and New York, we too will someday have to treat as rubbish what we can repair and recycle.

In Tokyo, I remember seeing perfectly decent bicycles left outside subway stations - abandoned by owners who no longer want them but don't wish to pay to take them away!

Old no more gold
There was a time when our mothers exchanged their old saris for steel bartans. Those days are gone. But we still have raddiwalas who take our old newspapers for recycling. And we still have domestic help who gratefully use old furniture and hardly-used baby clothes.

I guess in the US there is the Salvation Army where you can donate these things. And Oxfam stores in the UK. India too will soon need an organised mechanism where the haves can channel their hand me downs.

Because none of us NEEDS another Tshirt or bedspread or pair of shoes but we still keep buying them. Simply because we can. Simply because we went to the mall. Or simply because it happened to be on sale.

We throw away stuff not because it's outlived its usefulness or functionality but its novelty. Which is a new and heady feeling in this country.

A great idea
Here is one organisation which is doing pioneering work in this direction.

Goonj asks people 'to give us all such material at their home or in office, which they hardly use'.

I know what you're thinking - the mountain of old clothes which were dumped in tsunami-hit regions a few months ago. Which were of practically no use to recipients.

The nice thing with Goonj is that they take the trouble to do rigorous sorting and in a very systemic manner reach them to needy people in the remotest parts of the country for whom these are very valuable.

No one wants scraps thrown at them. Goonj take the trouble to see that the items its ends are usable and clean. If it gives someone a sari, a blouse and petticoat is generally given to go with it.

And if clothes are very old/ torn or unsuitable (who will wear spaghetti tops in villages?!) they are still used as 'chindi' - for making bedsheets/ pattis.

If u have stuff to give away, here's a list of collection centres.

I think it's a great initiative and one which a society with as much inequality as our really needs to encourage.

The fact is we Indians do hate to *throw* things away. Which is why we have so many 'give your old TV and buy a new one' offers. Big Bazaar is even buying bhangaar of all kinds by the kg to attract customers! So if your feng shui expert advises you to declutter your home, you know where to head ...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Amity Astounds

The owner of the Amity group of educational institutes - Ashok Kumar Chauhan - is wanted by Interpol for financial frauds committed in Germany many years ago, reports Tehelka.

Wonder why such a major story - which appeared in the magazine over a week ago - is yet to hit any other newspaper. Could the fact that Amity is a MAJOR advertiser in both print and electronic media be one of the reasons?

Incidentally, Amity tried - but failed - to 'buy out' Tehelka in more ways than one.

"First the Chauhans tried to stop the story through subtle offers of advertisement support. Thet made several phone calls and sent several Amity representatives to Tehelka saying they would like to keep copies of Tehelka on their campuses. That having failed, they offered to bear the costs of stopping the printing press. When even this did not work, they tried to buy as many copies at traffic signals and from distributors.

Deepak Sehgal, proprietor of Central News Agency (CNA) which supplies the newspaper to retailers stated that demand for the Jun 11 issue suddenly shot up in the market."

Apparently, the Delhi Police and the CBI have been sitting on an Interpol 'red corner notice' against Chauhan for years. The Ministry of External Affairs has also failed to act on an extradition request.

Tehelka implies that this may be due to the fact that 'sons and daughters of VIPS study in these institutions - and he has links in both the BJP and the Congress'.

'We nurture talent', goes the Amity promise... Maybe evading arrest from banks whom you owe millions of dollars to is one of them.

Kya School Hain Hum!

Today is my soon-to-be-six year old daughter's first day at school. Or is it her last day of childhood? My heart is heavier than her new, big-girl schoolbag as I see her off at the bus stop. Playschool, nursery, kindergarten - those are mere preparation for separation. Class One is the rough, rigorous, Real Thing.

Twenty odd workbooks, textbooks, notebooks. As we sat covering them in regulation brown paper, I noticed they were a lot more colourful and child-friendly than the schoolbooks I remember. Still... they seem like way too many, especially to carry back and forth.

Not long ago, CBSE asked the 6000 schools across the country following its syllabus to reduce the school bag burden. "Schools should also not set any homework for students of classes I and II," CBSE Director (Academics) G Subramanian said in a circular.

Some schools are making provisions for lockers. Most aren't. What's most frustrating is that what you feel on such issues - as a parent - really doesn't matter. You may be a 'consumer' of education, paying a pretty hefty fee, but the general attitude of schools is 'take it or leave it.'

No doubt the school cannot satisfy every pushy parent but the more fundamental issue is about balance of power. That lies squarely with the educators. I wonder whether it's partly to compensate for the fact that teachers - even principals - are one of the lowest-paid professionals in society.

There are times when I swear I can hear the teacher thinking, "Hey, Doctor/ Manager/ IAS officer... idhar sab ek samaan. Here, you gotta dance to my tunes."

I'm sure Nivedita will learn to live with the system - like I did. And millions of other kids have. But is the objective of schooling to merely survive, or to thrive? Wish someone had the answers... or at least started asking the question!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Liril revisited

A while ago I blogged about the new Liril ad. I didn't like it.

Well, it's been on air for over 2 months and I'm still not gaga about it but I notice the following positives:
a) The 'red chillis' have been edited out.
b) The jingle La-i-ra-i-la has ... kind of grown on me

I still don't like the foreign (south African) models being passed off as Indians. And the water droplets on the model's back don't remind me of any waterfall (as was the agency's intention).

Anyhow, I decided to go and buy the soap. And guess what. The real problem is that there is a huge mismatch between the upmarketness of the ad and the actual product.
While the ad sells you a 'Calvin Klein' kind of experience, the soap is not radically different or 'international' - in look, feel, fragrance or foam.

There is some improvement in logo and packaging - but not enough. The soap has morphed in shape (oval) and has some tutti-frutti green bits in it but the smell is the same. Detergenty and extra-strong. The reason I stopped using it in the first place.

So for now I shall stick to the little-advertised but heavenly smelling Palmolive Aromatherapy and the another old favourite - Pears.


Criticism is something I can live with - and learn from. But not from random, anonymous people.

And hence, for the first time, I have taken the trouble to delete some particularly hateful - and hurtful - comments of 'anonymous' origins left on this blog.

These anonymice have the following problems:
a) "Every post you write is about IIM... "
Huh? That's factually incorrect. But even if it were true, this is my blog. You're not being forced - at gunpoint - to read it!

b) "You don't reply... " or "You reply only to people with an IIM connection"
Huh ?? I don't reply that often because I don't just blog - I have a life. Time is finite! Besides, not all comments merit a response - often there's nothing of value I can add beyond what I've originally written.

But I do take note of comments - and ALWAYS reply to anyone who directly emails me.

Thought for the day
If the word 'IIM' does tend to pop up in my writings now and then it's because for me it was a singular and defining experience.

I'm reminded of a very beautiful observation in a special issue of Time magazine called the 'Asian Journey Home' in which immigrants go back to their homeland and write about the experience.

This is what Karl Taro Greenfeld wrote in an essay about the experience of returning to Tokyo where he spent the days of his "youth" (a decade ago) and finding everything had changed. What he was seeking was another world which existed only in the "repository of his memories".

"If you are truthful to yourself, you will admit there was a time when you felt most honstly and authentically yourself. A week or a month or, perhaps if you are lucky, a year or two when the swirling circles representing your character, personality, style and appearance swam into perfect congruence and you were precisely the person you aspired to be. When I return to Tokyo I am reminded of that state of equilibrium".

For me, perhaps, the two years spent at IIM A captured this state. Which is why my mind wanders back to it quite often. As simple as that!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Smoking mana hai

There's a huge debate going on about the proposed ban on smoking on-screen in Bollywood films. While I agree there is a freedom of choice issue involved, one has to also realise that tobacco marketers have methodically used films to circumvent the ban on advertising tobacco through practically all other mediums.

I researched this for an article titled 'Smokescreen' which was published last October in Businessworld.

When all other promotional avenues dry up, there remains a potent 'P' in the tobacco company's arsenal: the People factor. Who is smoking - and how cool that person is perceived to be - is the Invisible Salesman still in operation. Smoking in movies has been linked to adolescents trying their first cigarette, according to a new study by a team from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School. As a 1989 Philip Morris marketing plan noted: "We believe that most of the strong, positive images for cigarettes and smoking are created by cinema and television."

There is documented evidence of the company paying to get Marlboros placed in Superman II and a host of other popular Hollywood films. When the US Congress threatened to make product placement illegal, the tobacco industry pleaded 'self regulation' and pay-offs officially stopped. But placements didn't. In fact, 82 per cent of the top 10 grossing PG-13 films each week in theatres from May 2002 to May 2003 included tobacco.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study of tobacco exposure in Bollywood films conducted last year revealed similarly shocking figures. The research, conducted by Ambika Srivastava, president, Strategic Mediawork, concluded that 76 per cent of top-rated Hindi films portray smoking as 'the cool thing to do'. It's not just villains and vamps who smoke: today, 50 per cent of tobacco incidents are depicted by the 'good' characters. And increasingly, smoking is being used to demonstrate an assertive and independent mindset.

Documentation of money changing hands in India is unavailable, but last year's Quentin Tarantino-inspired Kaante certainly merits investigation. "Collar ko thoda sa oopar chadha ke, cigarette ke dhuaein ka chhalla bana ke..." goes a song from the film, which became far more popular than the film itself. Noting these guerilla tactics, the WHO decided to focus on the entertainment, films and sports industries on World No Tobacco Day last year.

Actor Vivek Oberoi, who has smoked in both good guy and bad guy roles, decided to 'kick the habit' onscreen and appeared in a series of anti-smoking ad films last year. However, Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Sunjay Dutt are all chain smokers, and it is a known fact that the actor/director who smokes at home is more likely to smoke in public and light up in movies.

So yes, you can debate the issue to death but ... there may be a case for the on-screen ban. It's more easily enforcable than trying to restrict sale of cigarettes near schools and colleges (who's to check that anyways!!)

Bottomline: Directors and actors will just have to get more creative. A stick in hand won's be a code-prop to signify gangster or vamp.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A novel pastime

A new Crossword bookshop is coming up on Hill Road. Ain't that wonderful?? Like the advent of multiplexes brought with it the 'multiplex movie' phenomenon, could the spread of chains like Crossword be ushering in a 'bookplex' one?

Certainly the kinds of books being written in English for Indians has undergone a change. The 80s and 90s saw the Salman Rushdie-Arundhati Roy variety off books which were based in India but written for the international audience - with a spillover Indian readership.

Today, you have a new generation of books and authors with no literary pretensions. They're just good timepass reads about people, places and things the urban Indian can connect with. And surprise! many are written by b school graduates. Which is what my piece 'A Novel Pastime' published in the latest Businessworld magazine looks at...

By day, they are investment bankers and brand managers. By night, they toil away at their keyboards, tapping into their own experiences to spin out slice-of-life stories that appeal to 'People Like Us'.

IIM Ahmedabad graduate Chetan Bhagat relived his IIT days in Five Point Someone. Swati Kaushal's stints at Nestle and Nokia provided rich fodder for Piece Of Cake, a light-hearted tale set in corporate India. And that's just the beginning. July 2005 sees the launch of Mediocre But Arrogant, a story of love and life in the fictitious Management Institute of Jamshedpur (MIJ).

You can read the rest of my story here (free registration required)

Bottomline: MBAs turning to writing is actually not that surprising because many Indian B-school graduates are simply exceptionally bright individuals who followed the easiest path available to them. Anyone who's been on an elite b school campus will vouch for the many potentially great singers, writers and film makers lost to the world of business.

Or then again - as these novelists prove - maybe not.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Rating, not ranking

In response to the question - do rankings matter? - which some of you have raised, my answer is "not really." Whether you join the college ranked no 1 or 4 usually doesn't.

Last year after Businesworld, Business Today AND Outlook had published their B school rankings, JAM had done a post-mortem and also provided a "B School Report Card"

At the time I clearly specified our approach:
Whether a B school RANKS a notch higher or lower than another isn't as important as whether it falls in a generally accepted CATEGORY as regards quality of education and placements.

The JAM B school Report Card therefore graded 50 odd b schools on the following scale:
A + Absolutely excellent
A Highly recommended
B + Strong B school brands
B Good choices
C + Above average
C Just about OK
? Questionable value

For example, I placed IIM A, B, C, XLRI, L and ISB in A + category. Only a handful of people have the luxury of choosing between these schools - they all pretty much give you the same kind of halo.

In grade 'A' I placed FMS, MDI, Bajaj, SP Jain, IIM K, IIM I as well as MICA and IRMA. And so on.

Now this is more "useful" but makes a less sensational story than LSR being named the "no 1 college in India" while poor St Stephens comes in 6th.

The other issue is "top 5" colleges in every city is not much of a help to anyone. At least top 15 colleges per city would give students who don't score insanely high marks an idea of which colleges they should be considering.

That's exactly what we did when arriving at a JAM rating for Engineering colleges in Maharashtra

If this appears to be "tom-tomming" JAM, so be it. Lucky for me, instead of just cribbing, I have the opportunity to 'set things right' through a magazine which influences students.

Not that I claim to be infallible. We always advise students to reach decisions based on advice from peers, seniors and personal visits to campuses if in doubt!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

India Today's Sad Sad Survey

There's more to write about Goa.. but I interrupt to comment on the continuing saga of the 'India Today College rankings'. The latest edition is out and has some very strange results indeed - as far as Mumbai is concerned.

The top 5 Arts colleges in Mumbai:
1. Xaviers
2. Elphinstone (?!)
3. Sophia
4. Mithibai
5. Bhavan's

It gets worse.
The top 5 science colleges in Mumbai:
1. Xavier's
2. Elphinstone
3. Sophia
4. Bhavan's
5. Ruparel

And here's the really crazy bit.
Top 5 colleges in Mumbai for commerce
1. Xavier's
2. Bhavan's (???!!)
3. Podar
4. Somaiya
5. Mulund college of commerce

No Narsee Monjee, no HR or Sydenham. Xaviers - which runs an evening college for working students and Bhavan's - which is definitely nowhere among the average student's top 5 choices.

What is India Today thinking? Are the results of a 'survey' to be taken as the Gospel Truth - whether or not they reflect actual ground reality?

Just to briefly touch on some of the other glaring errors:
a) Medicine: Grant medical college makes it to the 'top 10' in India while the most wanted by students - G S Medical college (KEM) - is nowhere.
b) BITS Pilani does not feature in top 10 engineering colleges
c) Xavier's is ranked # 2 in commerce ALL OVER INDIA.

What went wrong
For several years now JAM has analysed how and why these rankings - esp for Mumbai -are SO glaringly wrong:
a) The methodology of the AC Nielsen ORG Marg survey sucks. Getting 350 academics to rank 400 colleges across 8 cities just does not work.
b) Halo effect. The once glorious Elphinstone - which is NOT a top choice today - gets a high score from the 'experts' - most of whom are 40 + at the very least.
c) There can be minor disputes about whether X or Y college deserves to be ranked 3 or 4 but not whether it deserves to be ranked in the top 5 at all!

Bottomline: Sadly, the editors at India Today just don't care about the impact the results they publish may have on parents and college aspirants. They just need to sell copies year after year. Which means 'shocking' (and unbelievable) results like ILS law college Pune being ranked ahead of National Law School, Bangalore....

JAM will be out with its own rankings soon... Correction, we will provide RATINGS which would be of help to prospective students... More in my next post!

Go Spice!

I like Spicejet. True, this is based on a single Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai flight experience but here's why:

a) The flight departed on time - both ways. And reached on the dot, too. This is an achievement because the other 'budget' airline is - in my rather extensive experience - always late.

Yes, much as I commend Capt. Gopinath for being the fisrt to give every Indian the chance to fly, my last 3 flights on his airline have left me less than satisfied. Each time there was a huge delay - ranging from one to six hours. And, in Indian Airlines style, no plausible reason given - or regular annoucements. ( If in Delhi, your best bet is to call Air Deccan in Mumbai and check whether the flight has taken off coz the same aircraft flies back :)

b) Spicejet is a cheap airline but the way it's packaged - it doesn't feel like a cheapie one. So for example, they give you refreshments worth about 10 bucks on board instead of asking you to buy the same (a small packet of chips, water and toffees).

The air hostesses are a little more glamorous and smile a little more - like they do on Jet Airways. And, they wear slightly tight white blouses. If I - as a woman - noticed this, I am sure the male population definitely has!

Even the Spicejet logo is far more bright and cheerful. I also liked the fact that they let you select a seat of your choice at the time of booking online.

Small Things matter
Now you might say phooey - punctuality is one thing, who cares about the other factors. Well, you may think you do not. But at some level, you do get influenced. And so, while price will remain THE most important criteria given that both Spice and Deccan are offering you relatively cheap tickets, you may check availability on Spice first.

Air Deccan is going for an IPO - so hopefully they should be able to improve its service. For one, they need to lease better aircraft ... the ATRs they fly are really scary! And make too much noise!! I know none have fallen out of the sky yet but surely Mumbai-Ahmedabad, for example, has enough demand to merit a regular sized jet.

Bottomline: Budget airlines are changing the way India travels. I know my Goa trip happened only because there was a good deal available. "Impulse" buying has moved beyond picking up a cute t-shirt :)

Well as they say, the more the merrier - "Let There Be Flight". And please, God, let there also be bigger and better AIRPORTS!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Going Goa Gone

I am off to Goa for 3 days, thanks to SpiceJet. No, I did not get one of those Rs 99 tickets but at 50% off it was still a good deal.

Cheap airlines ki baat to theek hai - but where are the corresponding airports... The domestic terminal in Mumbai these days is not very different from Bombay Central station.

But visions of sunny/ rainy Goa beckon beyond that. Cheerio till Tuesday!

Bunty aur Naukri

The scriptwriter of Bunty and Babli and I share a cosmic connection - we both love using the same opening line.

For close to a year now, I've started my rediff column on careers with a "there are two kind of people in the world" observation. And Abhishek a.k.a Bunty also jhaadoes philosophy with his "Ye world jo hai na... isme do tarah ke log hain..."

I'm not suggesting I own the copyright to that phrase - the idea's been around for a while now. I use it because it makes my job easier (the first line is always the hardest to write!)

Ironically, I've just written a column inspired by Bunty and Babli and for a change -I haven't used the line at all :)

I was in fact struck by something Bunty said to his dad, explaining why a secure and dull job (as a ticket collector) was not the thing for him.

"Aapki naukri mein na izzat hain, na mazza, aur na matlab". Isn't that what we all want from a career - and life in general. Read the rest of 'Career Lessons from Bunty aur Babli' here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Ghar ka khaana zindabad!

A Bong friend recently dragged me to have dinner at a restaurant called 'Oh Calcutta'. The chief attraction here is that the food served is 'just like what we once had at home'.

So, in a fancy shmancy setting we had 'home food', at less than homely prices. With each mouthful my friend was going over the moon, while I was wondering - as I chewed on rice with banana flower ki sabzi - whether there were any leftovers in my fridge.

OK - it wasn't THAT bad but really, I wouldn't have wanted to pay 500 bucks for a meal like that. Because I am not from Calcutta and it did not bring back any fond memories.

But it set me thinking... The wheel has turned full circle.

When we were kids, going to a restaurant was the ultimate treat. It happened only a couple of times a year - on my parents' anniversary or some such occassion. And we'd usually visit only Delhi Durbar or Kailash Parbat. But those were days you looked forward to.

This continued into the hostel years - when 'eating out' was a welcome escape from mess food - but usually an unaffordable luxury.

But the tide turned when I moved out of the circumference of mom's cooking - and started living on my own. 'Eating out' became something you did everyday, merely to fill your stomach.

Cut to the present. After years of trial and error I have (at last) found a decent maid to take care of the daily 'paapi pet ka sawaal'. I carry a dabba to office, and usually eat at home.

Of course I still do eat out a couple of times a week to:
a) Catch up with friends over a meal.
b) Try out some new place/ kind of food - for the experience.

Home economics
I think 'ghar ka khaana' will be the Next Big Luxury for many of us. Good household help is scarce - as are wives who will toil in the kitchen daily. As two-income families mushroom the question is - will they survive on ready-to-eat/ junk food/ Udipi meals?

Mumbai has always had enterprising ladies who send lunch and even dinner dabbas with home-cooked food. But I think the next step is actually a chain of take-aways, located in office complexes/ malls from where you can pick up home-cooked mix n match meals.

So you could pick up 6 chapatis, 100 gms alu-tamatar ki sabzi and 100 gms moong ki daal + some dahi on your way home - enough for a couple.

The smart thing would be to have - the way dabba ladies do - a variety of cuisine. ie Gujarati, Punjabi, south Indian - more styles depending on demand.

Someone will of course have to study how to make on a mass scale food that tastes just like ghar ka. While no two moms cook alike, there is a generally accepted spectrum in which home food falls.

The menu would be more 'pedestrian' - tindli, torai, alu-gobhi, tur daal. Even if there's paneer - it would be home-style and not swathed in heavy gravies and spices like restaurants normally serve it.

I've seen this in Thailand, where women are a very visible part of the workforce. Department stores like Tesco Lotus offer these kind of takeaways, as do women in malls with small carts.

I read somewhere that Food Bazaar has started something similar on an experimental basis in Andheri and Goregaon. But haven't had a chance to visit. If anyone has - and can vouch for taste/ hygiene do lemme know!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mirror mirror II

Mid-morning I picked up both Mid-day and Mirror. Mid-day enlightened me on the following:
a) Riddhima (Rishi and Neetu Kapoor's daughter) is getting married to a businessman in Delhi
b) Hrithik Roshan's sister is to marry (her seocnd time) and settle in the US
c) Eight similarities between Ramgopal Varma's Deshu and Dawood (even tho he is crying himself hoarse that there is NO similarity)
d) That an outfit very similar to what Rani was seen wearing is available at Big Bazaar for Rs 300.

I also read Mirror, from I which remember the following:
a) Cigarette smoking to be banned in films and serials (also the lead story in the TOI)
b) Something about cheap air tickets to Goa being unavailable (I beg to differ because I have bought SEVERAL cheap tickets.. and in fact am going to Goa by Spicejet later this week!)
c) Something about Manisha Koirala breaking up with her nth boyfriend
d) Something about heroes who look silly after hair straightening. This was good - esp the quip abt Ashmit Patel looking like Posh Spice with a beard.

Net: net Mid-day was more entertaining - and gave some new gossip. As many of us have already read a broadsheet in the morning I think what we want is something 'timepass' at lunchtime. Mirror is what you can call a 'good' paper but I am not sure what need it satisfies.

The Strategy
The need DNA and HT are addressing is readers and advertisers wanting 'an alternative to TOI'. With Mirror, TOI is following the 'cannibalisation' theory ie if we must lose readers let's lose them to a second paper of our own.

But - you tell me - can an 'alternative' from the SAME publishing house ever be perceived as a REAL alternative?

So although Mirror can theoretically be an alternative to a morning broadsheet it is in fact an alternative to Mid-day. And that is fair enough. The 'pick me up paper' market that Mid-day is addressing has no real competitor (Afternoon is the only choice and it's a weak rival)

To combat Mid-day, Mirror had to be the opposite of Mid-day. Like 7 Up was the "uncola", Mirror is the 'untabloid'.

Great. But the problem like I said - do you want great and serious content to read in the train or with ur afternoon cuppa? Maybe during market research people said 'yes' because they feel cheap to admit they actually just like reading Marjorie Orr, Hit-list and a quick flip-thru the rest of their tabloid paper.

Given this, in a short time Mirror may well decide to swing to the OTHER extreme and become more tabloid than Mid day itself. Which looks tough (would they have published those grainy pics of the Shahid-Kareena lip-lock- what if Kareena boycotted the Filmfare awards?)

Aage aage hota hai kya...
Large advertisers, for now, have chosen to wait and watch. Mirror had lots of classifieds and 'best wishes' ads from small agencies on day 1. But the absence of support from large media buying houses like Mindshare etc which release ads for major MNCs is quite evident even into day 3.

Chalo, hum log bhi wait and watch karte hain. Kya keh sakte hain - kuch bhi ho sakta. All's fair in love and newspaper wars!

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